Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bio-Engineering, FrankenFashion & the Future of Leather

Care to buy a piece of Alexander McQueen? No, not a product he designed... an actual piece of Alexander McQueen, himself.
The controversial click-bait is Tina Gorjanc’s effort to create fashion accessories from leather grown from deceased designer Alexander McQueen’s DNA.
The buzzword for the project is, “FrankenFashion,” and it catalyzes discussions regarding moral and legal loopholes which struggle to keep up with technological advances. 

"Fashion That Gets Under the Skin," New York Times, July 20, 2016.
More significant, and potentially game changing, is the applied science of biological engineering for the creation of “real,” “sustainable” leather without harming animals or our environment.
Brooklyn startup, Modern Meadow recently raised $40 million to become a supplier of leather to the fashion and accessories market; handbags, shoes, upholstery and other products.
Modern Meadow CEO and co-founder Andras Forgacs, famous for his TED Talk on the subject (below), explains that "biofabrication" involves the design of cells to produce and assemble collagen and other proteins to yield leather that is “biologically identical” to traditional types.

Originally, Foragacs and his father intended to create biofabricated edible meat, however they met with a formidable "eww"-factor and pivoted to leather products as a "gateway" to their ultimate goal.

Modern Meadow may have left synthetic food products behind, however several other startups are using biological engineering to create real hamburger meat, (one challenge - consumers like their meat to "bleed."), cheese, egg whites, and even human tissue in the lab.
At Stanford, engineers have created a plastic “skin” that can detect how hard it is being pressed and generate an electric signal to deliver this sensory input directly to a living brain cell.
Back to the Hannibal Lecter spectrum, a UK-based company, "Human Leather" claims to create products from human skin bequeathed “prior to the donor’s death.
Crafted for "a small but highly discerning clientele,” the company acknowledges,
“we deal with a raw material that is very precious and hence quite difficult to acquire.”  - Human Leather, UK
(c) David J. Katz, 2016 - New York City