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May 5, 2022

Kering, Bestseller champion “first” cell cultivated leather pilot

Danish fashion retailer Bestseller and French luxury goods group Kering are among the names backing VitroLabs Inc, a biotech company leading the development of a new scientific process to grow what is claimed to be the world's first cellular cultivated animal leather.

By Beth Wright

Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Milpitas California, VitroLabs is developing a scalable tissue engineering platform for the efficient and environmentally friendly production of leather from only a few cells.

The firm has raised US$46m in Series A funding to build and scale pilot production with the round led by Agronomics. Oher investors include Bestseller’s Invest FWD,¬†Kering, Khosla Ventures, actor and environmentalist¬†Leonardo DiCaprio, New Agrarian, and Regeneration.VC. In addition, Kering continues its partnership with VitroLabs in bringing support for product quality testing, tanning, and finishing.

Combining advanced tissue engineering processes with proprietary advances to achieve commercial scale, VitroLabs says it is on a mission to produce cell cultivated leather that achieves the look, feel and performance of traditional leather without compromise.

The cultivated leather process involves taking a one-time collection of cells from an animal, which then grows in a nutrient-rich environment. Without ever going back to the animal again, the cells grow, divide, and form into tissue. The composition of the material achieves the complexity of traditional hides, containing a variety of proteins that make up a durable and luxurious material when finished, but without the need to go to animals as an ongoing source of hides. The process is said to be more environmentally sustainable and favorable for animal welfare than that which is used to produce traditional leather.

CEO and co-founder Ingvar Helgason says: “At a time when environmental stewardship is more important than ever, biotech companies have the opportunity to lead the way in changing how we produce materials and build supply chains, working hand in hand with existing artisans and craftspeople who are the cornerstone of the $400bn leather goods industry. By launching the first production of cultivated leather, we’ll hit a major milestone in fulfilling our mission to lead the shift towards a more sustainable future.” 

Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer at Kering, adds: “At Kering, a chapter/pillar of our sustainability roadmap is dedicated to sustainable innovation and actively looking for alternative materials that can reduce our environmental impact over the long term is part of the solutions we have been exploring for years. We believe that innovation is key to addressing the sustainability challenges that the luxury industry is facing, which is why we are very interested in the potential of biomaterials such as cultivated leather.”

VitroLabs clams to be is the first start-up positioned to bring cultivated leather to scale. It hails significant progress on product quality in the optimisation of cell expansion processes and proprietary design of a novel, large-scale tissue cultivator and, last autumn, moved into its new, 45,000 sq ft facility, designed for pilot production and laboratory space as it moves from the bench towards commercialisation.

Series A funding will be used to fast-track commercialisation, with expansion of scientific, manufacturing, and business development teams.

Co-Founder and stem cell scientist Dr Dusko Ilic says: “Over the last two years, we have been laser-focused on pushing our tissue engineering platform in order to increase efficiency and to optimize tissue production to obtain the look, feel, and performance of traditional leather at scale.  With several major breakthroughs in the areas of bioreactor design, bioprocess and facility design, and cell culture development, we are now on our way to a scalable process that delivers the desired premium qualities, forging a path towards the ultimate goal of industrialisation.”  

Bestseller recently announced it is expanding its partnership with blockchain platform TextileGenesis to trace man-made cellulosic fibres and direct-to-farm cotton throughout its supply chain.

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