A lot of things will change in the future. Cars will drive themselves. Motorcyclists won’t wear helmets (as we know them), and your leather jacket will be grown in a vat…at least, that’s what a new company named Modern Meadow hopes. Having just received $10 million in Series A funding, the New York-based company hopes to change the way we interact with our beloved bovines.

Getting its roots from the bio-technology sector’s research into “bioprinting” organs in a petri dish, Modern Meadow is looking for consumer-level applications to this still young technology, which right now focus on creating grown-in-the-laboratory beef and leather.

Obviously the FDA has a few things to say about creating food products from bioprinting, so Modern Meadow’s first foray will be into creating real leather with stem cells.

The implications for the leather industry are pretty powerful when you think about it, and all you have to do to see that is take a gander and fake leather industry to see the demand for a humane alternative to animal leather cultivation.

Bioprinting processes like the one from Modern Meadow have the potential to create higher quality leather hides at cheaper costs, while requiring fewer land, water, energy, and chemical demands. The concept can be taken a step further even, as genetic manipulation comes into play and brand-specific strains come into the mix.

Leather growers (let that phrase sink in for a moment) can optimize their crop for particular attributes and qualities (abrasion resistance being a highlight for motorcyclists), and there is no reason to think that the technology is limited to just cow hides. Horse, goat, and kangaroo leather could all become considerably cheaper than the premium they demand over their cow counterparts.

The pushback of course is pretty obvious: the idea of growing leather in a laboratory, and then wearing it, is a fairly creepy concept to wrap one’s mind around. We are already seeing pushback from consumers to genetically modified food products, and there is a host of legal and ethical issues being debated right now regarding the use of stem cells.

With a slew of other advancements coming from bio-tech firms that push the envelope of how we understand our world, the idea of vat-grown beef steak and leather products is just one more mind-blowing idea for us to digest.

But before you pass judgment, think about just how weird the concept of wearing a dead animal’s skin is, especially for our recreation.

Barring some sort of labeling requirement, we doubt consumers would notice the difference between the organic and bioprinted leather hides, which is probably the real issue.

Just as the diamond industry had an aneurism over flawless artificial rocks, we can see the companies and countries whose bottom line is dependent on the mark-up of leather being the most vocal about this technology.

Source: TechCrunch

  • Keith

    Actually wearing animal hides isn’t weird to me. That someone would protest leather whilst wearing a leather belt and synthetic clothing or ‘organic’ clothing that likely caused MORE pollution directly and indirectly is far weirder than anything I can imagine…oh and this wont happen in the next 40-50 years.

  • Ax1464

    Most people don’t really care where their leather comes from or even where their food comes from. They put the “how” out of their minds, preferring not to think about the process — and animals — involved in providing us with leather products and meat.

  • Justaguy

    A perfect article about just how out of whack we humans are and I’m not knocking the company or idea. (although I would like to know how helmets are going to change and still meet all of the DOT’s and Snell’s, etc.)

    Instead of growing a cow outside that will provide food, bones (used in chemical processes for calcium or a billion other things in other cultures) and leather we will use comes from chemicals!
    There are vast areas of the Earth that don’t raise cattle but might in the future. There is a movement in Africa to increase cattle numbers as a way to restore the grasslands (supposedly the poop and their hooves digging up the ground is good for the grass or something TED told me) and no matter how much the Green movement wants it, the 3rd world doesn’t give one damn about pollution, runoff, water use, cow farts or my cholesterol count. Cows equal money and in some places prestige.
    Plus if the chicken littles of the global warming religion end up being right all of that defrosted tundra is going to be prime cattle country, lowering the coast of natural leather. The cattle won’t mind the methane being released as the permafrost thaws because they love to smell their own farts.
    Nice idea and hey, it might work. After all, people by bags of lettuce for 3 times the price of the heads right next to them without blinking an eye.

  • AHA

    I’m mindful that Petri dish manufacturing so far has been more problematic than originally thought. The failure of well funded projects trying to commercially produce hair-growing skin follicles as a ‘cure’ for hair loss, for example. That and the steady emergence of advanced textiles that already have much greater cut, tear or abrasion resistance than leather.

  • Richard Gozinya

    If it works, great. It could be a huge benefit for all of us. As it stands right now, with a cow’s hide, or any animal, there are a lot of variations, skin thickness, scarring, relative strength. Many of which can be effected by a how a cow, or other animal, has lived. How healthy it was, any accidents it was in. This process would eliminate all of that.

    @AHA I’m curious, what textiles have greater abrasion resistance than leather? Kevlar definitely doesn’t, plus it’s an aminoid, which really doesn’t like UV at all. The closest anybody’s come to my knowledge was Joe Rocket, with their hemp jacket.

  • Bruce Almighty

    I don’t care where my leather comes from actually. But I doubt that lab grown leathers will be less expensive than hide grown anytime soon. I do know that my cow/kangaroo hide saved my human hide at the track a few weeks ago when Crazy Eddie rear ended me going into turn one. Good stuff.

  • Motorman72

    I am a vegan and a motorcyclist and have been both for almost a decade, not a very long time in the greater scheme of things but a while anyway. I am not here to try and convert anyone or to defend myself, if you really want to know why there is an exhaustive amount of information available out there on the on the internet. You might think that the idea of grown leather might be something that would appeal to me or people like me but I have concerns. Where are the stem cells coming from? How would you know if what you are wearing is grown or slaughtered? Who enforces the labeling standards? Just a few questions. Most people assume that when the buy a garment and the label says it is leather they naturally assume it is cow leather, but you know what they say about assuming anything. But growing leather is just noise at this stage. What is encouraging is that there has been a real demand from consumers and a reaction from industry for non leather apparel. There have never been so many options for people that don’t want to be ensconced in leather.

  • AHA

    @Richard Gozinya: There are loads of materials with better cut & abrasion resistance than leather. Up to a few years ago they were in use mainly in industrial and medical applications but increasingly bike apparel mfrs are using them. Rev’it have launched a 2014 jeans range with ‘PWR fabric’ that they claim outperforms leather. Superfabric panels have been used by several mfrs for high risk areas for a while. Also, it depends a lot on the specification. Dyneema, Aramid etc etc vary greatly depending on the type of weave & the grade being used. What would be useful is if mfrs would quote Martindale Test results etc but I suspect that’s a way off sadly.