In 2017, New Jersey based biotech startup Modern Meadow launched Zoa, which is inspired by leather and is the company’s first brand of biofabricated materials.” Zoa™, a name derived from the Greek term for life, zoi, features products created with Modern Meadow’s proprietary technology, “biofabrication.” According to the Zoa website, Modern Meadow’s first generation of materials have “the ability to be any density, hold to any mold, create any shape, take on any texture, combine with any other material and be any size.”
So what is “biofabrication” and how does Modern Meadow imbue its materials with such unique properties? Modern Meadow’s website explains that the process starts at the DNA level - creating and multiplying tailored micro-organisms which are then assembled into various structures correlating to a range of different material properties. A peek into one the company’s pending patent applications provides additional insight into how it approaches manufacturing synthetic leather and how it plans to succeed where others have failed.
There are more than ten published patent applications listing Modern Meadow as the Applicant with filing dates as early as March 28, 2012. One of Modern Meadow’s pending applications, Application No. 15/233802 (“’802 Application”), titled “Engineered leather and methods of manufacture thereof,” identifies the issues with previously developed synthetic leather, namely, that it lacks the “quality, durability, and prestige of natural leather.” Modern Meadow’s application is directed to “artificial leathers that replicate much of the structures and properties of natural leathers, but may be processed in a much simpler manner, and may address many of the problems of natural and previously-described artificial leathers.”
Figure 12 of the ‘802 application, shown above, provides a high-level overview of at least one method of Modern Meadow’s biofabrication of artificial leather. First, a small skin sample is taken from an animal. Using the skin sample, cells from the animal are multiplied and cohered in a lab to form multicellular bodies that are deposited to form sheets or layers. The cell deposition into sheets facilitates production of an extracellular matrix (ECM), which includes collagen and further fuses the sheets. Once the sheets are sufficiently fused, the sheets may be stacked to form a single, layered body or a “hide” as shown in step (5) of figure 12, which further enables production of ECM. The hides may then be tanned, dyed, conditioned, or otherwise finished to imbue them with desirable functional and aesthetic properties. Finally, the finished hides can be fashioned into handbags, shoes, watches, or any other traditional leather product.
The ‘802 application, along with several others directed to synthetic leather production and uses, continues to undergo examination in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Additionally, it appears that the company has increased its patent filings over the last two years, seeking to secure the technology that it believes will create eco-friendly, high-performance, and customizable synthetic materials that revolutionize fashion and design.