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Luxury fashion looks into developing lab-grown fur

Livestock-free replacements for conventional animal-based materials are all the rage these days. That’s why LVMH is attempting to create a plastic-free, sustainable alternative to fur using keratin, the main protein in hair.  

Big news in the luxury arena: high fashion that’s suitable for vegans.

Yep, you heard that right, the designer side of the industry is starting to make bids towards adopting more eco-friendly practices, with LVMH leading the charge.

Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are given how long the company has insisted on using fur, despite rights groups like PETA campaigning against it for decades. Likely motivated by ongoing shifts in consumer demand, though, LVMH is now at the forefront of the drive to replace fur.

In a move that’s sure to contribute to the material’s eagerly anticipated demise (more so than the UK government’s so far empty promises to prohibit its sales post-Brexit), the owner of brands including Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Dior will be breaking away from tradition and experimenting with lab-grown substitutes.

Fear not, however, because the goal is for it to be both cruelty and plastic-free – offering a world first in fur alternatives that’s actually sustainable unlike faux options which are responsible for microplastic pollution.

Could Lab-Grown Fur Disrupt the Luxury Fashion World?

Working with Imperial College London and Central Saint Martins University of the Arts, the hope is to successfully develop a replacement using keratin, the main protein in hair, so that it matches the quality of natural fur without any environmental trade-offs.

The collaboration is the latest project to use biotechnology to create realistic, plant-based versions of animal products, an area of innovation that exploded during the pandemic (think Hermès’ partnership with MycoWorks on mushroom leather handbags).

‘For the first time, keratin will be the focus of a study to develop a fibre capable of mimicking a range of luxury materials including fur,’ the research initiative’s director, Alexandre Capelli, told Vogue Business.

‘Even if the quality of fake fur has improved in the last year, it’s still not at the level of natural fur. We think that with this innovation, we should be able to achieve this level of quality — very close to natural fur.’

Thanks to an ever-evolving sector that continues finding new ways of harnessing science and tech to reduce its carbon footprint, this is looking to be entirely possible.

LVMH, Fendi, London universities develop keratin-based lab-grown fur

And LVMH has an optimistic outlook about the quality and range of applications it could eventually be used in.

It’s all part of efforts being made by luxury to create materials that have the appeal and qualities of real fur without causing suffering to animals or the planet.

‘The process of transforming the keratin into the fur fibre is what we are now setting out to develop, we will use DNA sequences to instruct cells to produce keratin proteins, and will add the sequences into yeast cells,’ adds Capelli.

‘The yeast can then make the keratin proteins in a process similar to brewing and the proteins themselves can then be spun into fibres suitable for textiles.’

Ultimately, the successful development of a low-impact bio-based alternative to animal fur could be a game-changer for the entire industry and it’s a progressive step forward to sustainable and meaningful change in fashion, not to mention a significant blow to the declining fur trade.

 

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