Kering Partnering with Biotech Startup Vitrolabs

Kering Partnering with Biotech Startup Vitrolabs

Featured Image: VITROLABS

California-based biotech startup VitroLabs has raised $46 million from a group of investors now including Kering, which owns brands Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen, among others. 

VitroLabs Inc. is a Bay-Area based biotech company that is leading the development of scientific processes in order to grow cellular cultivated animal leather, leading the industry away from petroleum-based, highly polluting processes. On Wednesday, the company announced its partnership with Kering, which is bringing in support for product quality testing, tanning, and finishing. 

Marie-Claire Daveeu, chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer at Kering, said of the partnership, “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.” 

Co-founder and CEO of VitroLabs Ingvar Helgason says that the mission of VitroLabs is to create high quality materials, lower environmental impact, further animal welfare, and meet the standards of the luxury industry. “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 $400B leather goods industry. 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.” 

VitroLabs CEO Ingvar Helgason. Photo by Brandon Patoc

The process that VitroLabs uses seeks to preserve the biological characteristics that the industry, designers, and consumers know and love about leather, while protecting animals and the environment. It begins with a one-time biopsy from a living animal (in this case, a cow). Cells grow in a  bioreactor, which provides cells with the nutrients and signals necessary for them to grow, taking a mere few weeks. Once grown, hides go directly into tanning. 

At the same time, rival luxury group LVMH is attempting to move away from fur and use keratin in its place. LVMH is partnering with Imperial College London and Central Saint Martins University of the Arts to develop lab-grown fibers. 

Alexandre Cappeli, environment development deputy director at LVMH, says that the goal is to create animal-free fur that matches the quality of natural fur — much like the goal of VitroLabs and Kering. “The ultimate goal is to have these alternative innovative materials but not use plastics. Even if the quality of fake fur has improved in the last year, it’s still not at the level of natural fur. We think that with this innovation, we should be able to achieve this level of quality — very close to natural fur.” 

Daveu of Kering continued, “We are constantly looking for new solutions and investing in innovations that can help address our main challenges in sustainability, such as sustainable sourcing and traceability. We are convinced that without breakthrough solutions, we won’t be able to reach our sustainability targets. Vitrolabs is a startup with whom we have been able to build a partnership, among others, to ensure that our priorities (highest quality standards and scalability) were taken into account in the creation process.” 

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