The new materials are grown completely without animal derivatives

The new materials are grown completely without animal derivatives

A Brooklyn-based biotechnology startup is showcasing the first biofabricated leather materials that have been made in labs from living cells.

The products from Modern Meadow are making their debut under the brand name Zoa, and will be on view this autumn in New York City at a SoHo pop-up exhibit and at the Museum of Modern Art.

The Zoa materials are created using yeast fermentation and biofabrication to produce collagen materials at a competitive cost and industrial scale. The product is grown completely without animal derivatives.

The company says the prototypes "begin a broader conversation about the design and manufacturing possibilities available with biofabrication."

Its first exhibit will be at the Museum of Modern Art's event 'Items: Is Fashion Modern?' from 1 October to 28 January, where the company's in-house design team, led by biofabrication pioneer and chief creative officer, Suzanne Lee, have chosen to reinterpret the graphic-tee.

By applying biofabricated leather in a way that was not previously possible with traditional leather, like creating a stitch-less seam with liquid leather, they provoke new thought about the design potential offered with novel manufacturing techniques.

"Our technology enables designers to explore materials in exciting new ways, enabling never-seen-before functionality, aesthetics and performance possibilities," Lee says.

To complement the MoMA exhibit and to deepen the conversation about grown materials, Modern Meadow is also holding a pop-up exhibit in SoHo from now until 12 October to showcase a broader range of material prototypes.

Technology platform

Modern Meadow's technology platform uses the latest DNA editing tools to engineer specialised collagen-producing yeast cells. The cells are optimised to manufacture the type and quantity of collagen required. Once purified, the collagen is formulated and assembled into materials for consumer applications.

Supple, durable, and flexible, the new biofabricated leather materials are set to open up new possibilities in design and manufacturing not possible with traditional leather.

While the products re-create aspects of traditional leather, including suppleness and breathability, they also have new properties not possible from animal hide, such as improved strength to weight ratio.

Biofabricated leather also reduces waste by up to 80% compared to traditional leather, the company says, since it can be produced according to the size and shape required – unlike animal hide. In addition, a biofabricated material involves reduced tanning and lower inputs of land, water, energy and chemicals.

In contrast, leather, which represents a $100bn raw material market, is a by-product of the meat industry, and as such is subject to fluctuations in availability, quality, price and growing demand.

Modern Meadow, which has so far secured $53.5m in funding, says it is currently partnering with world-class brands across luxury and consumer goods categories to grow products of Zoa, slated for release in 2018.

Efforts to engineer new performance leather and overcome the waste produced during a typical leather manufacturing process have most recently seen Nike launch a new Flyleather. The product is made with at least 50% recycled natural leather fibre produced from discarded leather scraps from tannery floors. These are turned into fibres, fused together with synthetic fibres and a fabric infrastructure, and then finished. It is completed by being put on a roll to be cut.

Nike Flyleather as "game-changing" as Flyknit