Laboratory leather: French biotechnology at the service of fashion and luxury

In the field of fashion, today, the choice of virtuous raw materials is crucial in an eco-design approach, knowing that this represents around 70% of the environmental footprint of the products we wear every day.. A new startup, Faircraft, produces a biological material that provides an excellent basis for the production of high-quality laboratory leather.

While Asia is the world’s leading exporter of skins and leather, with 49% of the market, Europe, due to its breeding tradition, ranks second, with 35% in value. The entire leather sector in France has 8,000 companies for 80,000 jobs and represents 15 billion euros in turnover. Exports concern approximately 75% of French skins and 40% of finished products. Among the last countries in Europe with Italy and Spain to manufacture leather goods, France has opted for high-end products.
And in its quest for sustainability and ethics, fashion is increasingly turning to lab-grown leather.. A new alternative that could well change the situation.

Laboratory leather: French biotechnology at the service of fashion and luxury

Offering the fashion and luxury industry a qualitative and responsible alternative to animal leather, the French biotechnology startup Faircraft has relied from the start on international fashion designers and major luxury brands to develop a material that meets the to their aesthetic and technical requirements.

Cultivated in the laboratory, this revolutionary material reproduces both the structure and the composition of animal leather. It makes it possible to rediscover the “hand” of traditional leather, while drastically limiting the environmental and social impact of its transformations. This “leather” is a product transformed from an animal skin by means of tanning or impregnation preserving the natural structure of the fibers of the skin and having retained all or part of its grain.

Raw materials represent 70 to 80% of the environmental footprint of the products we wear every day. In a context where NGOs, customers, employees and the media are urging fashion players to engage in a virtuous approach, the creative industry is actively seeking to minimize its environmental impact through appropriate sourcing solutions.
Consumers, who are increasingly informed both about the issues of pollution caused by certain tanneries and aware of the animal cause, participate in this need to evolve towards more ethical alternatives.

This material with multiple promises opens up new possibilities for designers:

  • 90% reduction in CO2 emissions and use of tanning chemicals
  • Remarkable touch and appearance identical to traditional animal leather
  • Customization of thickness, texture, patterns and colors
  • Traditional tanning methods associated with the use of clean and innovative techniques.

Innovation is crucial to meeting today’s sustainability challenges, and Faircraft is undoubtedly bringing an impactful and responsible solution to the fashion and luxury industry.

A revolutionary material

The company was created in March 2021 by Haïkel Balti and César Valencia-Gallardo, experts in industrial engineering and biotechnology. And according to these co-founders, the future of raw materials lies in biomimicry.

Leather, a noble and timeless material, is also one of those that has the strongest environmental and social impact, far ahead of cotton or polyester. But science now allows us to reproduce the properties and the feel of materials from living organisms without having to depend on animal husbandry or draw on unreasonable quantities of natural resources.

Faircraft leather (a material called in vitro) has taken the best of tissue engineering, materials science and cell culture processes to develop high quality leather, based on unique and patented processes. Leather without needing to kill an animal. This should appeal to vegan fans. The principle is to cultivate bovine cells, taken by biopsy from living animals, on sheets of collagen. We then obtain leather that is more real than nature, which can then be tanned and cut to make clothing and accessories.

Laboratory leather is therefore a transformed product of an animal skin model produced in the laboratory from animal cells, by means of tanning that retains the natural structure of the fibers of the skin model.
This revolutionary material faithfully reproduces the structure and composition of animal leather. Its sensory characteristics are exceptional and its countless customization possibilities meet the demanding demands of creative people.

But Faircraft goes further in its mission: they combine biotechnology and respect for know-how working in close collaboration with traditional tanners on new responsible and innovative methods.

The changing luxury industry

Fashion and luxury players are now under increasing pressure from their stakeholders (NGOs, consumers, media and employees) urging them to be more committed. The choice of virtuous raw materials is crucial in an eco-design approach.
Also, on the consumer side, animal welfare has become a growing concern. The health crisis has given a new dimension to social and environmental challenges.

Yet leather consumption continues to increase (the global luxury leather goods market is expected to exceed $60 billion by 2025), while beef production is stagnating in Europe.
For many luxury companies, leather products represent more than 50% of their turnover. It has become increasingly difficult to access quality raw materials and production has moved outside the continent.

Many alternatives to animal leather are offered, but unfortunately these most often use materials of petrochemical origin in their composition and the quality of the materials is neither sufficient nor up to the expectations of the Luxury market.
Faircraft has fully integrated these challenges and is leading the way.

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A project co-designed by experts

They are two experts in industrial engineering and biotechnology.

Haïkel BALTI, the CEO, was trained at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at the Arts & Métiers ParisTech school. Haïkel has developed unique expertise in process engineering, materials science and management.
For six years, he co-invented, industrialized and supervised the development of consumer electronics products involving many breakthrough technologies such as biosensors (Withings, Nokia) and artificial intelligence (Invoxia).
In March 2021, he decided to co-found Faircraft. At the beginning of the company, he attracted the attention of big names in fashion and luxury, involving them in the development of a fabulously qualitative and environmentally effective material.

Then there is César VALENCIA-GALLARD, CTO. Holder of a Doctorate in Science, he spent ten years in academic research. Cesar is an accomplished researcher, author of several publications and patents in a variety of fields, from cell biology to astronomy.
He has worked in some of the most prestigious French scientific institutions such as the Collège de France, ESPCI and the National Center for Scientific Research. Armed with an exceptional combination of skills in biochemistry, cell biology and biomaterials physics, his experience is at the heart of the technological developments related to the cultured leather produced by Faircraft.

The strength of Faircraft and its two co-founders lies in particular in the fact that they have surrounded themselves with an expert and efficient team, but also in their corporate vision. They decided to design and develop their project in collaboration with major and essential players in the leather and fashion market.

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Scientific expertise is what seals the two founders of the company. Haïkel Balti, specialist in materials science, transfer of disruptive technologies and scaling up, and César Valencia-Gallardo, expert in biotechnology, specializing in cell culture and biomaterials.
In order to solve the challenges linked to the design of this material, they have put together a team of applied research specialists drawn largely from academic research, backed by a team of engineers and doctors from industry, particularly pharmaceuticals.

Tanning methods are ancestral and very rich in know-how, but we now know that many of them are harmful to the environment and to employees who are exposed to dangerous chemicals. Faircraft has been able to combine breakthrough technology and the integration of traditional tanneries in its thinking through collaborations aimed at integrating clean and innovative tanning methods, including vegetable tanning. (1).

Wishing to provide a precise and concrete response to the new needs of the fashion and luxury industry, Haïkel Balti and César Valencia-Gallardo have called on international fashion designers and major French luxury houses to help to the point of their revolutionary material.

Consumers want to support responsible brands. They are increasingly sophisticated and demanding and are looking for sustainable solutions and alternatives. Faircraft responds to these pressing demands by offering their solution adapted to the new challenges of responsible fashion.

Impact reduction :

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Faircratf is such a promising project that it attracts rapid fundraising from French and international players because the company stands out for its speed of development, strongly inspired by the techniques used in consumer electronics: they quickly succeeded to bring together a team of scientists and “makers”, who have managed to break multiple scientific locks and automate many of their manufacturing processes.

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And tomorrow ?

Faircraft’s ambition is to be able to offer their alternative to animal leather to different industries thanks to an upcoming fundraiser that will allow them to both develop and strengthen their team (they wish to develop and diversify their recruitment, in particular with professional profiles). ‘biotechnology engineers then set up a marketing and communication team), and move into the production phase.

Faircraft wishes to build a strong and honest brand image around their material by establishing collaborations with high-end fashion brands, the most likely to use this innovative material. They then plan to enter new markets, such as automotive or furniture, and to go even further by expanding the range of materials thanks to the performance of their unique technology.

(1) Vegetable tanning: Leather tanned from bark, fruit, roots, leaves. Used in particular in saddlery, for the soles of shoes

Header photo : The two founders of Faircraft – Photo ©Julien Hamel

We wish to say thanks to the author of this article for this incredible material

Laboratory leather: French biotechnology at the service of fashion and luxury

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