The Cell-Made Man: Menswear & Cellular Agriculture

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When Fortune Magazine announced that The North Face’s “Moon Parka” collaboration with Spiber would hit shelves in Japan (for the handsome price of $1000 each), I could feel the ground shifting; something truly revolutionary had happened. And then Patagonia announced similar plans with the American company Bolt Threads. Both companies began making high-performance garments from spider-silk, but no spiders were involved in the process.

 

Spider-Man_webshootersI read the Spiderman comic books growing up, and the fantasy of having a readily accessible store of spider-silk, a material five-times stronger than steel ounce-for-ounce, to swing from and capture bad guys with was enthralling. But my rational brain convinced me that Peter Parker’s web-shooters – equipped with wet-fluid spider silk cartridges – was pure fiction. But two decades later, real wet-fluid spider-silk is about to change the fashion industry and the world as we know it. We are approaching a time where silk-lined wool suits with horn buttons, leather oxfords, and beaver felt hats will all be brewed from yeast like a rustic ale.

We are approaching a time where silk-lined wool suits with horn buttons, leather oxfords, and beaver felt hats will be brewed from yeast like a rustic ale.

I’d been following developments in biofabrication for some time, but these were more than momentous events. I hate to use the term “revolutionary” because I feel like it’s exhaustingly overused in marketing and advertising. As a guy who still works in mainstream commercial production, I’ve developed an allergy to many marketing clichés, so when something truly revolutionary happens, like, say the biggest advancement in large-scale material manufacturing since the industrial revolution, we’re sadly left with a word that’s used in every car commercial: revolutionary.

What’s so great about a coat made from protein that came from yeast cells that were implanted with genes and fermented with sugar, salt and water to produce proteins with the “exact same chemistry” nature’s thread-makers? To wrap your head around that one, it’s helpful to understand how mainstream, large-scale materials manufacturing works. So here it goes in a nutshell:

Most fashion is a beautiful object with a secretly ugly past.

Fashion materials begin as plants, animals, chemicals, or even minerals. The major problems, whether it’s pollution, waste, animal cruelty or worker exploitation occur outside of what most people buying or wearing fashion ever see or experience. Therefore, most significant impacts happen before the clothing hits the racks, and exist outside of what most advertising and marketing illustrates. Nearly invisible problems are difficult to confront. Most fashion is a beautiful object with an secretly ugly past.

The impacts of simply growing cotton, or rearing billions of sheep and cows are so staggering that even if no further processing occurred – if cows magically transformed into leather boots –  they’d still be unsustainable materials. So you can toss all the “vegetable-tanned leather” “organic wool” and “naturally dyed” cotton right into the hamper to be thoroughly greenwashed.

The revolutionary thing about cellular agriculture and biofabrication (growing things like leather without cows, and brewing things like cellulose or keratin fibers without cotton plants or sheep) is that it cuts out that first, hugely impactful step of having to dedicate fragile resources like land, water and fuel, for example, to process 33 million hectares (each hectare is 100 acres) of cotton fields. Think about all the energy and resources it takes to get that much cotton from seed to sewing machine and consider the circumstances of modern-day slavery and child labor for many people who work in cotton fields. Now plug sheep into a similar production framework for wool, or cows for leather, or mink for fur – but now make it even more troubling by considering the ethics of controlling, confining and killing enough animals to produce 7.7 million tons of skins and hides or 87 million mink pelts. Who wouldn’t want to find a way to completely eliminate these first, most harmful and costly steps?

The global fashion and textile industry is valued at 3 trillion dollars, and what companies like Bolt Threads, Spiber, Modern Meadow and others are doing is seizing a big financial opportunity to start a new mode of manufacturing that will make industrial production-as-we-know-it obsolete, while solving some really big problems.

Brewed spider silk is the first to market, but it’s only a matter of time before cultured leathers, hairs, feathers, and materials that we can not yet even conceive of will replace their less efficient predecessors. That’s what’s so great about a coat made from cultured protein.

ROMBAUT 2016

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ROMBAUT envisions a future where man and machine form symbiotic hybrids – where exoskeletons enhance human physical performance. This is the concept for the spring 2016 collection of footwear; technical man-made materials combine with innovative organic materials to form an athletic, modern and experimental collection.

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“OUR PERFORMANCE AND OUR IMPACT ON OUR SURROUNDINGS WILL BE EVER GREATER – THE FULL CONVERGENCE BETWEEN BODY, TECHNOLOGY AND FASHION WILL CHALLENGE OUR NOTIONS OF WHERE OUR BODY BEGINS AND ENDS. THERE IS NO LONGER ANY SEPARATION BETWEEN OUR SELVES, WHAT WE WEAR AND OUR ENVIRONMENT.”

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The future-scaping, Parisian shoe company does not disappoint with their autumn 2016 collection, either. Slick blacks, arctic whites and otherworldly metallics with pops of blue and tufts of fuzz come together in perfect balance.

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These vegan “leather” jackets made from cork are Germany’s most successful fashion crowdfunding ever

Acessories by vegan eco fashion brand bleed

When Michael Spitzbarth founded German streetwear brand bleed, he created the flagship of German eco-fashion brands – as in comparison with most of his colleagues, Spitzbarth took one aspect into consideration most other eco-brands choose to ignore: not only are all bleed products made from GOTS certified cotton or other sustainable materials in fair labor in Portugal, but the whole line has been a 100% vegan from day one.

The crowdfunding campaign Spitzbarth and his small team launched for their version of the classic black leather biker jacket made from dyed cork in 2015 went through the roof – the most successful German fashion crowdfunding of all time is a good example how innovative design and the use of surprising, superior materials can create attention.

Hi Michael, please introduce yourself and tell us a little something about your company bleed.

My name is Michael Spitzbarth, I’m the CEO as well as the head of design at bleed clothing. After majoring textile design, I worked as a freelancer  in that sector for a couple of years. I was able to take a close look of the machinations of the textile industry during that time and then finally decided it was time to create change. I founded my own brand in 2008 and the name says it all – bleed; because for our entire product-line, no human, animal or any part of mother nature has to suffer. I wanted no harm, no poison, no living being harmed in the process… that’s part of our DNA, anchored within the production of our goods through the entire supply-chain. Eco-friendly, vegan and fair production of GOTS certified sports- and streetwear straight from the heart of Upper Franconia.

Michael Spitzbarth, CEO of vegan eco fashion brand bleed

 

It’s safe to say that you’re one of Germany’s leading eco-fashion brands – all organic and sustainable and you’ve also been vegan forever. How come you go that extra mile?

First off, thanks for the compliment. To answer your question, it’s just common sense to not “just” go organic, but also fair and vegan. These three pillars are what bleed stands on. Sustainability and a fair production process, free from animal suffering, these things just go hand in hand.

Can you tell us more about your biker jacket, about the material and how all this came about?

We always saw a great potential in the use of cork – not just as an alternative for leather, but also as a sustainable substitute for already existing, toxic imitations. That is why we already used it for accessories and patches. But the idea to create even more items with this amazing material has always been in the back of our heads. We finally made that step with the Montado Black Edition, a fashion- and accessory collection with cork as the main constituent.

“Cork is the 21st Century version of leather”

The highlights of this collection are the two vegan “leather” a.k.a cork jackets. They are as stylish as the original – but they’re the renewable and vegan version. All items are free from animal suffering, toxic chemicals and have not been made under exploitative working conditions. All of this makes cork the leather of the 21st century. It’s not just a sustainable resource with an extraordinary appearance, but it’s value to the environment is priceless as well. The bark of the Portuguese cork oat protects the land from erosion and increases the absorption of rainwater. Furthermore, it binds CO², a process which is even increased every nine years due to the peeling of the bark. The cork tree has all these great benefits and allows us to create these sustainable and vegan products. And we don’t to chop it down, either.

You put together the single most successful fashion crowdfunding in Germany for that jacket, is that right?

That is actually right, the Montado Black Edition became the most successful fashion crowdfunding in Germany. We collected close to € 74.000 , which was 14.000 more than we originally were hoping for. We are convinced of our products and their quality, of course – we wouldn’t sell them otherwise. But the success of the crowdfunding campaign still came as a bit of a surprise. It looks like the people were just waiting for a sustainable and vegan alternative and it’s overwhelming to see what has been set in motion here.

 

Acessories by vegan eco fashion brand bleed

How’s the general feedback? And did you get a lot of requests from mainstream media? Is that topic interesting?

Fortunately, most of the feedback we got was very positive. A lot of people who got in touch were simply surprised, what cork is actually capable of. The majority just didn’t expect that you can actually make clothes out of this material that seems a bit fragile at first glance. But after they’d touched it, they were all very positive.

Most people associate the material with corks for wine bottles or even floor tiles, which made it surprising for a lot of folks, so it wasn’t a topic for the sustainable media outlets only, but for mainstream media as well. We had a lot of press.

What do you answer when people claim that vegan items “try to emulate non-vegan ones”?

I would say that this is nonsense. Just because we don’t want anyone to suffer for our consuption, be it human beings, animal or nature, doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to dress stylishly. That has actually been one of our goals from the start: Prove that fashion can be both – sustainable and well, fashionable.

Visit the brand’s website: bleed-clothing.com

Eric Mirbach of Vegan Good Life

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Hi, my name is Eric and I founded a magazine. Let me tell you: It’s a wild ride. I wanted to be an activist and from where I stand, activism might come in many shapes and sizes, but can always be measured by the the grade of it’s effectiveness. I had been looking for a way to raise awareness for everything that’s wrong with exploiting animals, and after some soul-searching, I realized it would indeed be effective to simply use the trade in which I was already an expert to help the cause I’m trying to push forward. Rather than trying to learn a new trade, invest time and work to wrap my head around something new, I knew that if I stuck to my guns, I could do something solid and start right away.

I’m a photographer as well as an editor and I have been working for magazines for a pretty long time now. I’m based in Germany, but I’ve been traveling, shooting and writing articles, and have been published hundreds of times – but only when I partnered up with ex-model Julia Koch, who had ended her international career simply because it was impossible for her to match her ethical views with the demands of the job, I started to grasp that I could very well keep doing all that. I just needed to shift focus, pick up another subject for my work.

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So combining Julia’s inside knowledge of the high fashion world with my background in magazine making, Vegan Good Life Magazine was founded late 2014. With a background story like that and with our combined knowledge of fashion and lifestyle, photography, word-smithing, art and design, it was obvious that the magazine we would be putting out would have to be outside the box, taking the general idea of veganism one step further – especially when you look at the way vegans are still seen as radical hippies in large parts of Europe.

Vegan Good Life turned out to be a high end publication printed on thick, quality recycled paper, combining a slick design with superb photography, talking about all things nice and shiny, especially things other than food. We both felt that it only made sense to widen the view by leaving the most obvious (and easy) topic out and shift focus from food to all the other aspects of life which are, in the public eye at least, not connected to veganism at all – even if it meant taking a risk. At least at German newsstands, everything’s rather conservative and strictly categorized. This was reason enough for us to go and take another leap of faith by going bilingual. Vegan Good Life is both German and English (in one magazine), so we opened up to an international audience while keeping our roots deeply integrated into the DNA of the magazine.

The second issue of Vegan Good Life (with no other than The Discerning Brute’s Joshua Katcher and Vaute Couture’s Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart on the cover) can still be ordered online on our website: www.vegan-good-life.com

Issue #03 is in the works right now and will be out November 2015. We work a lot, don’t go out too much, but we make a point of eating healthy, cooking a lot, exercise regularly. There’s always a ton of stuff to do – we struggle with the sheer amount of correspondence we now have to face everyday. Our inboxes are trying to kill us, basically. Oh and did I mention how insanely expensive printing a magazine is? And isn’t it crazy how it all doesn’t matter when you just know you’re onto something? When it all feels so right, there’s no reason good enough to stop doing it.

Feel free to check out Vegan Good Life. We’re making it for you!