Why this Hong Kong billionaire is investing $10 million in lab-grown leather

Looks good in leather.
Looks good in leather.
Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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One of Asia’s richest men, Li Ka Shing is sinking $10 million into a Brooklyn-based startup that specializes in lab-made meat and leather. This is Li’s second recent investment in synthetic animal products—earlier this year he invested in a company that makes plant-based egg substitutes.

Li’s investment in the startup, Modern Meadow, is a nod to the growing appetite for meat and cheap leather products in China and beyond. (Moreover, as we’ve pointed out, lab-grown food could help with China’s ongoing food safety problems.)

Modern Meadow grows leather from animal skin cells in a process called “bio-fabrication” that purportedly looks and smells like the real thing. This matters at a time when leather demand is expected to reach $92 billion in the next four years, but producing leather via traditional means is becoming more and more expensive. The cost of raw hides has risen as much as 30% in some parts of the world and is squeezing profit margins in the industry.

China is currently the world’s leader in leather processing—the country produced 65.9 billion (pdf, p. 2) square feet of leather last year—mostly to supply the country’s shoe manufacturing industry. Investing in lab-grown alternatives is a savvy move for one of Asia’s savviest investors—and besides, as Li noted, ”Everyone wants a clean and sustainable world.”