Leonardo DiCaprio, a vegan actor, has invested in a company that wants to eliminate cows from the leather industry. VitroLabs Inc., situated in Milpitas, California, said that it has secured $46 million in a Series A round led by actor and environmentalist Tom Hanks, as well as global luxury conglomerate Kering and BESTSELLER’s Invest FWD. VitroLabs is now working on a scalable tissue engineering platform for making leather from just a few animal cells. Traditional animal leather-making, which entails breeding and killing animals and using chemicals to preserve and tan their skin for coats, shoes, furniture, and other things, has the potential to be replaced by the new platform.
VitroLabs is on a quest to create cell-cultivated leather that has the appearance, feel, and performance of traditional leather by combining innovative tissue engineering procedures with patented technology that allows for commercial scale. Cultivated leather is made by taking a single group of cells from an animal and growing them in a nutrient-rich environment. The cells develop, divide, and build tissue without ever returning to the animal. The material’s composition is similar to that of traditional leather, with a range of proteins that when combined form a durable and sumptuous substance, but without the need to slaughter animals.
Ingvar Helgason co-founded VitroLabs with the goal of developing high-quality materials that exceed the stringent requirements of the luxury business while reducing environmental impact and promoting animal welfare.
“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 $400 billion 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,” Helgason said in a statement.
Leonardo DiCaprio Scaling Lab-Grown Leather
VitroLabs’ cultivated animal leather preserves the biological characteristics that consumers are used to while eliminating the most environmentally and ethically detrimental aspects of traditional leather making.
VitroLabs is now in a position to bring cultured leather to scale, thanks to additional backing from Leonardo DiCaprio and others. Since 2016, the firm has been a leader in developing cutting-edge cell-cultivated animal leather utilizing innovative tissue engineering technologies. In the improvement of cell growth methods and the exclusive design of a revolutionary, large-scale tissue cultivator, the business has achieved tremendous progress on product quality. VitroLabs relocated to a new 45,000-square-foot building last autumn, which will be used for pilot production and laboratory space as the firm draws closer to commercialization. The money will go toward expediting commercialization and expanding the scientific, manufacturing, and business development teams.
“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 industrialization,” Dusko Ilic, VitroLabs Co-founder and a stem cell scientist, said in a statement.
Several companies have developed in recent years with the goal of producing sustainable and ethical alternatives to traditional animal leather using plant-derived materials. Desserto, the first organic leather created exclusively from the nopal (or prickly-pear) cactus, was launched in 2019 by Mexican entrepreneurs Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez. Cactus leather has the capacity to replace the usage of animal leather and synthetic materials that are not ecologically friendly because to its flexibility, breathability, and durability of at least 10 years. Major labels including Fossil, Karl Legerfeld, and H&M have already used Desserto.
Piatex is a vegan pineapple leather created by Ananas Anam, a London-based firm. Piatex, created by Spanish designer Carmen Hijosa in 2016, is made from pineapple industry waste. The material is made from pineapple leaves that have been left over after harvesting. Long fibers are extracted, cleaned, dried in the sun, and processed into Piafelt.
Piatex has been a popular vegan alternative utilized by over 1,000 worldwide lifestyle businesses since its inception. Hugo Boss collaborated with Ananas Anam to produce a limited-edition vegan shoe range for its BOSS Menswear collection in 2018. H&M unveiled their Conscious Exclusive line in 2019, which was manufactured with a variety of innovative and ecological materials, including Piatex. In the same year, Hilton Hotels’ first all-vegan room in London was furnished with pineapple leather rather than animal skin.
Other businesses are now employing mushrooms to create environmentally friendly leather. MycoWorks, a biomaterials firm located in San Francisco, manufactures leather-like Fine Mycelium materials from mushrooms’ fast-growing root systems. Last year, MycoWorks announced its first collaboration with Hermès, incorporating its unique Sylvania material into the Hermès Victoria purse. The startup is now constructing its first full-scale mushroom leather manufacturing factory in Union County, South Carolina, with the capacity to generate several million square feet of the novel material each year.
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