Lab-Grown Fabric is the New Faux-Fur and Pleather by Ciarra Wentzel, January 11 2017, 84 Comments

Photo: Modern Meadow's Lab-Grown Leather

Winter is here and fashionistas all over New York City are eager to wear those new 100% rabbit fur jackets with matching snakeskin booties down city streets.

Little do these fashion gurus know that their fur coats and booties contribute to the killing of more than 50 million animals a year. Designers indirectly murder a number of innocent creatures for their skin and fur only to create the chicest looks for the next fall collection. Silkworms die to make silk, goats are robbed of their natural insulation for cashmere, sheep are slaughtered to make shearling garments, and birds are sacrificed to stuff winter puffer jackets with down. Don’t forget that mink, rabbit, chinchillas, foxes, and cows/calves are all also shaven or slaughtered and then skinned just so humans can wear their hide.

Using animal fur and skin to make garments and accessories has been a major fashion trend since the 1900s, but not everyone is onboard with this historical trend. Some argue that using animals’ skin as fabric is unethical, while others insist that using animals’ skin is necessary to create a high-quality garment. Alternatives such as faux-fur and pleather, or fake leather, have been used in garments for years, but many argue that these fabrics lack the same high-quality touch that animal fur and skin have. It is no surprise that for decades this trend has split the fashion world into two opposing sides of a controversial debate. And there are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the argument.

There is, however, one new development that may serve as a clear-cut solution that satisfies both sides of the great debate; growing animal-like hide and fur in a lab. This process can create the same high-quality fabric derived from live animals that is used in luxurious garments.

Growing fabric in a lab can be a very complex process, but is worth every step in the end. The work in labs has resulted in the production of a variety of different types of fabrics such as real leather, leather-like fabric and silk. One Brooklyn-based company, Modern Meadow, grows fabric in a unique way.

Photo: Modern Meadow Lab

Here’s how it works:

  • The company first edits animal DNA to instruct the cells to manufacture a certain type of collagen, which is a protein found in animal tissues needed to produce the animal’s hide (the leather). The DNA is edited by taking away base pairs of DNA.
  • The DNA is then cut and replaced with new base pairs.
  • Next, the company takes the new edited DNA and puts them in animal cells to multiply them. The cells then produce the collagen and other essential proteins.
  • The collagen molecules form a network of fibers. The fibers are then assembled to create the animal skin structure.
  • Lastly, the skin is tanned, finished and officially becomes leather

Not only does growing fabric in a lab save animal lives, it also helps to conserve the Earth. Since lab-grown fabric does not require animal farming, the process can save land, water and crops that would be otherwise needed to nurture the animals.

Unfortunately, since it is such a new and innovative way of creating garments, not many people know that fabric can be grown in a lab. As a result, there are fewer designers attempting to utilize labs to source their fabric. It is our job as a society to encourage the use of lab-grown fabrics and to help conserve the lives of animals and natural resources on our Earth. After all, lab-grown fabrics have the potential to bridge the historical split in the fashion industry.