Humanity is facing the bio-physical reality of resource constraints on a planet heading for 9 billion human inhabitants by 2050. The circular economy — a model of production and consumption that prioritizes reusing, recycling and sharing products rather than disposing them — could provide a meaningful intervention.
The livestock sector, which produces both food products and leather is the biggest use of agricultural land worldwide. Grazing land and farmed feed crops for cattle result in deforestation, eliminating vital carbon sinks, destroying ecosystems, and harming nearby communities. Yet, the industry is changing, and innovations in leather are abound – and, some of the materials being used might surprise you.
Arda Biomaterials is a London-based startup leveraging chemistry and materials science to transform spent grain waste into animal and plastic-free alternative leather for fashion and retail use. Because of their use of chemistry and a waste feedstock, at large production scale, their leather alternative can be affordable for commodity fashion where it can have the biggest positive impact on the environment. Ultimately, Arda aims to transform more waste into goods, to help build a sustainable world that doesn’t rely on animals or petroleum feedstocks.
Arda was founded in 2022 by Edward TJ Mitchell, who holds a PhD in Chemistry and Brett Cotten who has worked across the alternative protein sector from startups to investors. The startup has recently secured €1.3 million investment, led by Clean Growth Fund, with participation from Satgana, Plug & Play Ventures and Serpentine Ventures.
“The advent of cheap plastics wiped out a century of innovation in using natural inputs to make materials. Now, with sustainability in mind, we are discovering that the natural world has all the building blocks needed to create marvellous and sustainable materials. The production of leather is particularly resource intensive and the current alternatives are riddled with plastic. The chemical composition in waste grain is uniquely suited to be transformed into a material that mimics leather’s collagen proteins”, says Edward TJ Mitchell, CTO & Co-Founder of Arda.
There is an active movement in Europe to transition our traditional linear economy (i.e. cradle to grave) into a circular economy approach (i.e. cradle to cradle). Creating a circular, bio-materials economy that is regenerative by design holds the potential for vibrant regional economies and thriving local communities in global collaboration.
Brett Cotten, CEO & Co-Founder of Arda: “A lot of people believe leather is a by-product of cows; it’s really a co-product that subsidizes the continuation of animal agriculture. The spent grain from breweries is typically burned, sent to landfill, anaerobically digested into gas, or fed to animals as cheap feed – all very low-value use cases. I am thrilled that we can skip the cow altogether, as well as the horrific slaughterhouses and destructive leather tanneries, to create a truly novel product that is 100% plastic-free. Now we can drink our beer and wear it too.”
The global market for leather alternatives is expanding rapidly due to the demand for more sustainable materials in the fashion and leather goods industry. A study from Grand View Research states that the alternative leather market is expected to reach $85 billion by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 43.8% from 2020 to 2025.
Although there are a number of existing and new alternatives coming to market, Arda is among the only ones producing a plastic-free alternative with a circular model that can reach price parity with animal-based leather. “Satgana is incredibly excited to be part of their journey and we look forward to supporting Brett, TJ and their team in their mission to transform waste into smarter, circular biomaterials at scale.”, says Romain Diaz, Founder & CEO of Satgana.
London-based Arda Biomaterials seeks to transform waste into smarter, circular biomaterials. The startup turns waste from the brewing industry into a leather alternative for the fashion industry – 100% plant-based and plastic-free, called New Grain. Leveraging chemistry and materials science, Arda makes it highly scalable and cheaper than animal and plastic-filled alternatives.