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Kering invests in lab-grown leather startup VitroLabs

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Image: VitroLabs

Kering has invested in biotech company VitroLabs, a pioneer producer of environmentally friendly leather that has high scalability potential.

The San Francisco-based company has been developing a scientific process to grow the world's first cellular cultivated animal leather. It announced on Wednesday that it had closed its Series A financing to build and scale pilot production, raising 46 million dollars.

The financing was led by Agronomics and also counts actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio as an investor. Kering, in addition to funding, is also supporting product quality testing, tanning, and finishing.

A leather alternative for luxury goods makers

CEO Ingvar Helgason co-founded VitroLabs with the mission to create the highest quality materials that meet the uncompromising standards of the luxury industry while drastically lowering environmental impact and furthering 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 dollar leather goods industry,” said Helgason. “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.”

Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer at Kering, said: “At Kering, a chapter/pillar of our sustainability roadmap is dedicated to sustainable innovation and actively looking for alternative materials that can reduce our environmental impact over the long term is part of the solutions we have been exploring for years. We believe that innovation is key to addressing the sustainability challenges that the luxury industry is facing, which is why we are very interested in the potential of biomaterials such as cultivated leather.”

Helgason adds: “There has been an explosion of companies that are developing alternative materials to leather. However at VitroLabs, our cultivated animal leather preserves the biological characteristics that the industry, craftsmen, and consumers know and love about leather, while eliminating the most environmentally and ethically detrimental aspects of the conventional leather manufacturing process associated with its sourcing.”

Based in Milpitas, California, VitroLabs is the first start-up positioned to bring cultivated leather to scale. Since 2016, the company has been pioneering the cutting edge material made by using advanced tissue engineering processes to create cell cultivated animal leather from only a few animal cells.

Co-Founder and stem cell scientist Dr. Dusko Ilic said: “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.”

Sustainable Fashion