Back in 2012 British designer Suzanne Lee captivated the WDCD Live audience with her BioCouture Research Project. In it she was investigating the production of an alternative fabric grown from green tea, sugar and microbes. Today, as the chief creative officer of the American firm Modern Meadow, she is collaborating in the development of lab-grown leather. The material is expected to be market ready in 2019.

‘We have received inquiries for partnerships from just about every major, and not so major, brand you can imagine,’ Suzanne Lee recently told The Wall Street Journal. New Jersey-based Modern Meadow is planning to release a lab-grown, leather-like textile with a luxury label in the coming year, the newspaper writes.

To produce the material on a commercial scale, Modern Meadows signed an agreement earlier this year with Evonik, a chemical company with expertise in microbial fermentation.

Suzanne Lee at WDCD Live 2012 

New chapter in materials

‘If you could grow a leather like material without an animal, that opens up a new chapter in materials,’ Lee explains in a video interview on Mashble. ‘What if you could grow it with a cell as a factory? If you could grow a dress in a vat of liquid? That was a sort of provocation that made me realize that there was a whole new feature for fashion that involved biotech and I wanted to be part of it.’

At Modern Meadow, Lee heads a team of designers who collaborate with scientists to research and develop the new lab-grown leather. ‘The creativity of what you can do is very often driven by the material itself. And as we think of biofabricated materials, this is a whole new world of opportunities for designers.’

Liquid leather

That, for instance, this new material, branded ZOA, is produced in a liquid form now offers designers a whole range of new possibilities in designing clothes, furniture and other products that traditionally use leather from animals. ‘We know that what we’re doing here is really creating the future,’ Lee concludes.