Whether we like it or not, the leather industry significantly contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and global waste generation. The current methods used to fulfil the increasing demand for leather involve a fairly simple, and completely unsustainable solution: simply raising more livestock (which contribute about 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions).
However, there are now startups spearheading the development of bio-based substitutes, which possess comparable or even better characteristics than traditional leather.
Alternative leather startups Gelatex from Estonia has raised $1.3M to date. Copenhagen-based Beyond Leather is producing plant-based eco-friendly alternatives to animal leather. It’s raised €1.2M so far.
VitroLabs, based in San Jose, has raised $54.4M and develops a platform that manufactures leather using stem cell-based technologies. While Modern Meadow is working on lab-grown leather (among other materials), and it’s raised $183.6M.
So as you can see there’s plenty of interest in this sector.
Now, a startup hailing originally from Turkey, but now ported over to San Francisco, thinks it’s come up with a breakthrough product.
Gozen, has now raised a $3.3 million seed funding round led by Happiness Capital (lead investor) with participation from Accelr8, Astor Management, and Valley-based SOSV. The startup now plans a facility in Turkey with production capacity of up to 1 million square feet.
The startups’ biomaterial, “Lunaform” is vegan and plastic-free and is is produced by microorganisms during a fermentation process. The material is being slated for use in fashion and automotive industries, while the company has patents for the technology in Turkey and is applying for patents in other countries.
The material was unveiled earlier last month during Paris Fashion Week at the Balenciaga Summer 24 show.
Gozen says Lunaform is a singular, fully formed material, meaning it ends up with better strength and flexibility. (Composite plant-based leathers that are assembled in layers can make them more subject to breakage). It can be produced in 13-square-foot sheets, with customizable thickness and texture.
Ece Gozen, founder and CEO of GOZEN told me over a call: “I was super obsessed with science, so six years ago, I just quit my job and worked on creating the habitat for these microorganisms. We are using a fermentation transplantation system which creates the material in just 10 days. The formulation becomes solid, so we then harvest that. This is microbial cellulose, a different type of cellulose.”
She said that the resulting material is “super strong and super thin. The material is 0.2 mm right now, and we have a unique texture on it. It has no plastic and no toxic chemicals in it.”
She added the startup plans to aim for not only fashion but the automotive industry as well.
Po Bronson, Managing Director of SOSV’s IndieBio, Gozen’s first investor, added in a statement: “There is a lot of competition now in animal free leather. But I believed that Gozen’s approach could surpass all others in both performance and economics.”
Whatever happens, the market is growing.
The global leather goods market size is projected to grow from $468.49 billion in 2023 to $738.61 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 6.7%.