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The vegan leather brewed in a lab

As soon as I meet Andras Forgacs we head outside into the freezing cold of Davos. Naturally he reaches for his coat, but I am slightly surprised at what he pulls out - it's just a normal, black puffer jacket.

As the founder and chief executive of a start-up firm that has created a vegan alternative to leather, I expected him to be wearing a coat made out of his own material.

In reality it's a bit too soon for that. Modern Meadow, the company he set up eight years ago, is still producing the fabric he has designed only in small quantities.

Nonetheless, in the same way that the rapid growth in the popularity of vegan food - from hamburgers to sausage rolls and chicken alternatives - has shaken up the food industry, he believes his firm can help do the same to the $200bn (£153bn) leather industry.

"It's a massive market with massive shortcomings. You have to raise an animal in a field using up water, gas and creating greenhouse emissions and then transfer the hide half way around the world."

Apart from the environmental harm, there is huge wastage in the industry. Up to half of a cow-hide can be wasted due to imperfections such as bites.

With alligator and crocodile skin, he says it's even worse, with up to 90% of the material wasted because of the need for a perfect pattern.

Business consulting firm Grand View Research (GVR) has predicted the global faux leather market will hit $85bn by 2025.

It cites the lower cost of producing animal-free products along with the increasing number of consumers opting for animal-free materials.

"As textile technology is evolving consumers are preferring vegan fashion," it said.

Permanent display

Mr Forgacs says the first product made from the material will be launched this year, but refuses to say what it will be.

Instead, like a travelling car salesman showing off his wares he pulls out several samples from a folder he is carrying around with him.

The pieces vary in colour, thickness and texture but share one key thing in common - no cow was killed in their creation.

The product is created from yeast cells that are fermented in a similar way to beer to create collagen, the protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity. From here the collagen is purified and assembled into unique material structures that can be adapted in various ways depending on its purpose.

A T-shirt made using the new material, called Zoa, was commissioned and acquired to the permanent collection by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as an example of the future of fashion, but Mr Forgacs says his firm is targeting more than just the fashion industry.

Eventually, he expects the fabric to be used for a variety of purposes, including clothing, shoes, handbags, car and plane interiors and furniture.

A Tshirt made from the Zoa fabric is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

This article was originally published in BBC in January 2019. Continue reading the full story and watch the interview here:

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