Sep 29, 2017 | By David

We’ve reported before on the use of 3D bio-printing for medical research and healthcare purposes, with organic tissues being produced in order to model diseases, test drug treatments and even be used for transplants. A rather less common, but still potentially groundbreaking, use for the technology is the ethical production of materials that are made from animals. New Jersey-based startup Modern Meadow specializes in this field, and it has recently completed development of Zoa, a bio-printed leather. The material has a huge range of potential applications for different industries that use leather as part of their manufacturing process.

The global leather business is estimated to be worth around $100 billion, with the material being used for luxury handbags, footwear, furniture and many other products. It has a unique strength and tactility, and its edgy aesthetic appeal makes it a mainstay of the fashion world at all levels. This popularity, however, comes at the cost of the wellbeing and lives of billions of animals. The use of the skins of cows, goats, crocodiles and various other creatures to make leather is not only cruel, but it’s also incredibly inefficient and has a significantly negative impact on the environment.

According to Andras Forgacs, the co-founder and chief executive of Modern Meadow, “At the beginning, the idea of Modern Meadow was animal products without the animal.” The company was founded in 2011 with the aim of producing bio-printed food as well as leathers and other textiles, but eventually focused in on the non-edible market a couple of years later.

Forgacs had already had a major influence on the 3D bio-printing world, as one of the co-founders of bio-printed organic tissue provider Organovo, along with his father, Keith Murphy and Eric David. At some point in the course of Organovo’s accelerating global presence, the company was 3D printing skin models for testing of cosmetic products, and this is what inspired Forgacs to choose leather as his new quarry.

Modern Meadow initially grew skin cells to create leather, but the company has since refined its approach and now uses a fermentation process to brew collagen directly. The material produced from this collagen is practically indistinguishable from animal leather, and its manufacturing process also improves drastically on conventional ones, as the leather industry supply chain has suffered from wastage as well as unpredictable weather conditions.

So far Modern Meadow has raised $53.5 million in funding, including a $40 million Series B round in June 2016, led by Horizons Ventures and Iconiq Capital. The company has also attracted a further $33.9 million in grants and tax credits.

The constant appetite for innovation in the fashion industry is part of the reason that is inspiring confidence in the as-yet-untested but promising Zoa. With this in mind, Forgacs hired Suzanne Lee, a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins fashion school as Modern Meadow’s chief creative officer in 2014. She has over 15 years of experience at the intersection of fashion and technology.

“As a designer, the most exciting part is the creativity that this technology enables,” says Lee. “It enables you to create things in completely new ways. Textures, weights, strength, elasticity, breathability — all of these are now tunable knobs of creativity that we didn’t have to this extent before. Whether linked to performance or aesthetic, they are incredibly exciting because they open up more bandwidth for design.”

A prototype t-shirt made using Zoa will be displayed soon alongside over 100 other classic leather pieces, in The Museum of Modern Art’s upcoming “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” exhibition, which opens on October 1st. The decision to participate in the show was part of Modern Meadow’s drive to boost awareness of its materials platform and educate the design community about its creative potential.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like: wrote at 9/29/2017 7:21:11 PM:

I have worked 44 years in the Italian tanners association as director and ceo of Lineapelle. So I understand how revolutionary is the 'new' leather. It seems to me there are 24 billion of breeded animals in the world which most people will continue to eat for a long time. The value of whole leather business is 100 billion dollars which will be defended 'till death' by interested people. It seems Zao will start to be industrialized in one year which is a long time in today market because the competitors will have time to counter -attack. Modern Meadow appears a drop in the sea of the international demand of 'leather'. The best and fast effect apart the technical and productive advantage of Zao would be the cut of wastes and pollution and so the support of many governmental institutions at least in the West. May be at the beginning it should be a luxury material for its price. Am personally convinced the world must abandon the old dirty sectors of fashion like the use and processes of hides and skins

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