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UK start-up unveils lab-grown real leather for luxury goods

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A UK tissue engineering company said it has “successfully produced lab-grown leather”. It’s only at sample stage for now but the team behind it believes it could be a game-changer for the luxury fashion sector.

Dr Che Connon, MD of BSF Enterprise, and Senior Research & Development Scientist at 3D Bio Tissues Dr Emily Telford

3D Bio-Tissues (3DBT) is a biotech start-up. The company is owned by London-based investment firm BSF Enterprise of which Dr Che Connon is MD.

Its ‘tissue-engineered skin’ has been “grown solely from cells for use in the luxury goods market”. The tanning expertise for its leather comes from the University of Northampton with 3DBT saying the “ethical and sustainable” leather product helps the industry “meet the ever-increasing demand for environmentally and animal-conscious alternative leather products”.

It was revealed on Tuesday at the Future Fabrics Expo in London with the team showing “rationally designed bio-engineered samples that were structurally and genetically identical to traditional leather”.

The product is made without harming any animals but can still be tanned using either traditional leather production processes, or better still, modern ecologically-sensitive methods. 

The company’s tissue-engineered skin uses only “immortalised cells — isolated and collected from an adult female horse following a strict and painless bioethics process” to produce a skin/hide structure in a lab over six weeks without the use of any additional supporting materials such as plastics or cellulose in the final skin product.  

We’re told it differs from alternative models of lab-grown leather as it makes use of the firm’s patented, serum-free and animal-free cell culture media supplement, called City-mix, “which accelerates tissue production whilst reducing the cost of the production process”.

So what we get is something that’s 100% animal tissue but without any animal suffering and able to be used in the manufacture of footwear, apparel, handbags, furniture, fashion, cars and accessories.

3DBT said there are other issues it overcomes compared to traditional leather.

“Animal skins and hides are limited by the size, skin thickness, and life of that animal, leading to inconsistencies and imperfections in the final leather,” it explained. “In contrast, lab-grown leather production can be more consistent, featuring uniform composition and thickness, free of natural imperfections, and can be scaled to produce a larger material”.

Like traditional leather, however, it’s also expected to be biodegradable in 10-50 years, which contrasts with polymer-based leather alternatives that can take over 500 years to decompose. 

The project between the University of Northampton and 3DBT was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through Innovate UK with the support of co-funders, including the Scottish Funding Council, Welsh Government, Invest Northern Ireland, and the Department of Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

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