What if the leather that we often see around us in the form of furniture coverings, shoes, and clothing, could instead be a liquid that can be sprayed on, assuming new forms?
Recent breakthroughs in lab-grown materials are transforming the manufacturing industry. From last year’s launch of Adidas sneakers made from vegan spider silk, to bacteria-grown bricks, to bio-textiles grown from mushrooms in just 9 days. In the battle between synthetic and natural materials, must we always choose one over the other? Biofabrication is breaking that norm while emerging as a new way to create products that demonstrate real performance and functionalities similar to synthetics, while still retaining the comfort and beautiful aesthetics of natural materials.
Modern Meadow – a well-respected name in the biofabrication world – is attempting to disrupt the traditional leather industry by growing animal-free leather materials using the same natural building blocks. It has developed a new platform where non-animal cells are designed to produce the right type and quantity of collagen through DNA engineering, which is then grown and assembled into unique material structures at a faster rate compared to standard leather-making techniques. In this case, the ability to control the composition of the material has allowed for adjusting its thickness, flexibility, strength, and durability, along with the aesthetic features (feel, grain structure, texture similar to different animal hides) to meet the end-user needs. The resulting material is then finished in an environmentally responsible, less impactful tanning process, eliminating the inefficiencies and excessive processing of the conventional leather making approach.
After 5 years of research and development, Modern Meadow recently launched the world’s first biofabricated leather brand – Zoa – on September 26th, 2017 and introduced a prototype for an iconic fashion item, the graphic t-shirt, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art on the occasion of their first exhibition on fashion and design in the last 73 years. The MOMA exhibit ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’ is now open and will run through January 28th. The prototype t-shirt made for the MOMA exhibit has been deconstructed, substituting new fabrics that have been joined together with no stitching and no adhesives, but instead with liquid leather seams.
Modern Meadow also mounted their own exhibit in SoHo, which Material ConneXion visited, showcasing the specially designed prototype t-shirts and material samples to demonstrate a range of unique new possibilities with their technology. The exhibit explores the ‘liquidity’ of Zoa by creating unusual structures and patterns. Zoa is able to be morphed into to any shape and can be combined with other materials. One of the t-shirts showcased a glossy grain on one part of the shape, offering a shiny finish, and a leather ‘flock’ integrated into the material as it forms on another part of the shape for a matte finish, indicating the different aesthetic possibilities opened up by biofabrication technology. Some of the other unconventional and thought-provoking designs on display included different fabric substrates from natural cashmere, wool, and silk, to technical sports meshes impregnated with liquid leather, and our personal favorite, ‘marbled’ grains that mix two colors of leather using different pools of proteins. The variations in thickness of the leather and fluidity of line are unique to this process, and cannot be created any other way.
Freed from the structure and size limitations of animal skin, biofabrication has enabled design and manufacturing capabilities that are impossible to achieve with traditional leather, such as superfine, intricate lace, formation/control of pleats, and seamless/stitch-less integration into different fabrics through liquid assembly. In the near future, we could have the softness of lambskin and the durability of kangaroo, all integrated into seamless, ultra-lightweight, thin, high-performance athletic/workwear! Do we hear mooing of happy cows in the background?
– Gayatri Keskar, Ph.D,
Image courtesy of Modern Meadow.