by John Russel Jones

Your next wallet, belt, or jacket may be made from leather that has been grown in a lab, rather than swiped from some unlucky cow, pig, or python. VitroLabs Inc, a Bay-Area-based biotech company has been leading research to “grow” animal leather, a marked contrast to leather alternatives like those seen recently from Piñatex, made from pineapples, or Mylo, made from fungi. 

VitroLabs closed Series A financing today that will allow it to build and scale pilot production, raising a total of $46 million from investors that include venture capital firm Agronomics; as well as global luxury group Kering and actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, among others. 

CEO Ingvar Helgason co-founded VitroLabs with the mission of creating the highest quality materials to 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 $400B leather goods industry,” says 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.” 

“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,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability and Institutional Affairs Officer at Kering.

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.  The company has made significant progress on product quality in the optimization of cell expansion processes and proprietary design of a novel, large-scale tissue cultivator. Last fall, VitroLabs moved into its new, 45,000 square foot facility, designed for pilot production and laboratory space as the company moves from the bench towards commercialization. Series A funding will be used to fast-track commercialization, with expansion of scientific, manufacturing, and business development teams. “VitroLabs’ scalable tissue engineering platform provides sustainable, high-quality leather,” says Jim Mellon of Agronomics. “We are thrilled to be continuing our support for VitroLabs, the leading luxury cultivated leather company ready for commercialization.”