Cultured meat–meat created without the animal–is quickly becoming something that we can order at a restaurant. Producing meat this way could potentially help mitigate the effects of climate change, save resources, and greatly reduce animal cruelty. If we can grow steak and tuna that has never been an animal, could this same technology take on other industries, like fashion? The answer is a hopeful yes. One startup is aiming to do it with lab-grown fur and wool.
Scientists at Amsterdam-based biotechnology startup Furoid have created the world’s first in vitro hair follicle linked to collagen. This is done by cultivating the stem cells of various animals (such as mink or leopard) under the right conditions so that it grows into actual tissue. (It’s similar to how cultured meat is made). In this case, it’s a follicle that could then potentially be used to “bioprint” fur and wool without the need for animals. And the process of tanning and dyeing the fur would also happen at a cellular level, which would prevent the use of the pollutive chemicals used.
A farewell to fur?
But, will lab-grown fur be vegan? The answer is: maybe. Currently, the technology relies on fetal bovine serum (FBS), a controversial and expensive ingredient, to nourish the cells. However, it could be replaced with something animal-free. The cultured meat industry has also relied on FBS, but there are vegan alternatives now.
Another challenge lies with what the fur is attached to. Traditionally, it’s the animal’s skin. Furoid’s fur could be grown on collagen (which is also being made vegan through biotech) or another material, the company’s chief marketing officer Maria Zakurnaeva told Innovation Origins. The technology is still far too new to say for sure.
While cell-based fur is still in its nascency, Furoid envisions that it could make fur farming obsolete. And the timing is spot-on. More than a dozen countries have banned fur farming, including the UK, Estonia, Hungary, Norway, and the Netherlands. This year, Israel became the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur. Retailers and designers such as Neiman Marcus, Oscar de la Renta, Canada Goose, and Saks Fifth Avenue have committed to going fur-free.