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More and more companies are focussing on materials that are based on the growth of microorganisms such as algae, fungi and bacteria. This trend was confirmed by the latest edition of Biofabricate in January, which was held in Paris rather than New York or London for the first time since it was founded ten years ago. Find out why Paris is important for the biotechnology scene at the interface between industry and design here.

By Karianne Fogelberg

From left to right: Suzanne Lee (Biofabricate), Kenji Higashi (Spiber), Inka Apter (Eileen Fisher Inc.), Christian Tubito (Kering Material Innovation Lab) at the BIOFABRICATE Paris Summit 2024 | Photo: BIOFABRICATE™, Robert Leslie

The fact that petroleum-based or animal-based materials are increasingly giving way to materials that are based on the growth of microorganisms such as algae, fungi and bacteria is no longer a dream of the future. More and more companies are turning to these materials in order to fulfil environmental requirements and meet the growing consumer demand for sustainable products. Unilever, for example, recently acquired the biotechnology start-up for premium hair care K18. This trend was confirmed at the latest edition of Biofabricate in January, where a number of new cross-industry partnerships and launches were announced. These included the collaboration between Ligne Roset and MycoWorks, a first in the furniture industry, but more on that later. Of course, it was also no coincidence that the industry event for current developments in biotechnology at the interface between industry and design was held in Paris rather than New York or London for the first time in ten years: “Bringing the Biofabricate summit to Paris is a strategic decision for us. It is at once home to the luxury industry and emerging EU regulation around sustainability. Both of which are driving bio-innovation.”

Closing Ranks With the Luxury Goods Industry

With the Kering Group as the main sponsor, this year’s Biofabricate has gained a player that is as renowned as it is influential, opening the doors to the luxury segments of the fashion and leather goods industry for the biotechnological materials sector. The Group’s portfolio includes Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen and, since 2023, its own cosmetics division. Paris is not only interesting as a fashion location. The cosmetics industry based here is also looking for biotechnological alternatives to replace the existing petroleum-based ingredients or those derived from rare plants or animals. Innovative substances such as these are being developed by the German start-up Bioweg and Curie Co in the USA, both of which were represented at Biofabricate.

Robert Leslie

With materials based on natural growth processes, CO2 emissions can be reduced, as can dependence on dwindling resources and harmful toxins – all factors that have become much more relevant. As deadlines for meeting statutory or self-imposed CO2 reduction targets approach, companies are increasingly interested in practical solutions in which they are prepared to invest: “With our new ambitious target of 40% reduction in absolute emissions, we need now, more than ever, innovative players like SQIM to speed up the transition towards a more sustainable industry” says Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability and Institutional Affairs Officer at Kering, in connection with the investment announced in Paris in the design-oriented biotech start-up SQIM, which previously traded under the name Mogu and whose Mycel leather is already being used at Balenciaga.

SQIM at the BIOFABRICATE Paris Summit 2024 | Photo: BIOFABRICATE™, Robert Leslie

Attractive EU Funding Structures

This is where the EU comes into play. This is because it is promoting the transformation from a petroleum-based to a bio-based economy not only through its legislation and the establishment of pioneering environmental standards, but also with financial resources. With the „European Circular Bioeconomy Fund“ (ECBF) the European Commission has set up a private venture fund that currently manages 300 million euros and supports companies based in the 27 member states and in “EU Horizon 2020”-associated countries. SQIM also benefits from this. The latest successful financing round will enable the company to expand its vertical production and further establish its two product families “Mogu” and “Ephea” on the market. Like many start-ups in the industry, SQIM is currently facing the task of bringing its technologies and production capacities to an industrial scale. Investments play a key role in this, alongside a favourable regulatory framework, as Suzanne Lee, designer and founder of Biofabricate, recently emphasised in an interview with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Only when larger volumes are produced will products made from algae, bacteria and fungi move from limited editions in the luxury segment into the mainstream.

Premiere in the Furniture Industry

The French family business „Ligne Roset“, which announced in Paris that it had acquired a significant share of the production volume of the biotechnology company MycoWorks, is now following this path. According to the company, Ligne Roset will be the first furniture manufacturer to work with Mycel leather, which is registered under the “Reishi” brand. “We have been waiting for years for a natural, sustainable material that meets our quality standards and our customers’ expectations,” says Antoine Roset, Marketing Director Groupe Roset, commenting on this step: “We believe Reishi is the answer.” The material can be customised in terms of density, weight and mechanical properties to meet individual customer requirements. It retains the quality of a naturally grown material that behaves and feels like leather but has a lower environmental impact. Just this autumn, MycoWorks opened its first industrial production facility in South Carolina, which will supply Ligne Roset in the future. Another favourable factor is that the biotech pioneer has had an office in Paris in addition to its headquarters in San Francisco since 2022. The announcement was preceded by months of material tests at the French-based production facility in order to adapt the material to the requirements of the furniture industry in terms of durability and performance. A limited cushion edition called “Teneo” went on sale in 2023. Designs from the collection, including classics such as the Togo sofa with its inviting creases (designed by Michel Ducaroy), will soon be available in Mycel leather.

Mycel leather | Photo: Reishi
Photo: Ligne Roset, Mathieu Bonnevie

New Standard Across All Segments

Among the exhibitors in Paris was the British company „Colorifix“, which dyes textiles with bacteria and thus offers a clean and energy-saving alternative to petrochemical dyes that can make the textile industry fit for the future. Fashion labels such as “H&M”, “Pangaia” and “Vollebak” are already using Colorifix. The joint initiative VivioBiome, announced in Paris by barefoot shoe supplier „VivoBarefoot“, and Israeli start-up start-up „Balena“ shows that biofabrication not only offers ecological and economic savings potential, but also opens up new design possibilities. The collaboration aims to develop the world’s first 3D-printed, customisable shoe sole made from bio-based materials that can be composted in an industrial process.

Photo: Colorifix

The message of this year’s Biofabricate is unmistakable. Whether fashion, cosmetics, mobility, interiors or construction – there will be no sector of the economy in the future in which biotechnologically produced materials will not play a role. It is simply a question of how quickly they will become established. Businesses, legislators, investors and universities (ndion of 19 December 2022) are working more intensively than ever on this.

BIOFABRICATE founder and CEO Suzanne Lee at the BIOFABRICATE Paris Summit 2024
© BIOFABRICATE™, Photo: Robert Leslie
BIOFABRICATE Paris Summit 2024
© BIOFABRICATE™, Photo: Robert Leslie

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