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Fabricating a sustainable future with Mylo unleather

Mylo swatches
Mylo swatches, courtesy of Bolt Threads
Aug 12, 2021 By WGSN Insider

At WGSN, we've been tracking the unstoppable rise of mycelium. Called out in our 10 Key Trends for 2021 & Beyond – Mycelium and the mushroom effect – and forecasted in our A/W 22/23 Mushroom Matters trend, mycelium, the vegetative root networks of mushrooms, is growing into a potential new sustainable material for the future, something we explore in more depth in our Sustainability & Innovation: Mycelium report.

This regenerative natural material can be bioengineered into almost any shape by controlling its growing environment, from fine sheets to thick matting or moulded products, depending on use. It’s becoming an interesting proposition for animal-free, leather-like materials or meat-free protein ingredients. In addition to its vegan credentials, it needs only a fraction of the land, water and food to grow compared to the resources needed for rearing animals, giving it a lower carbon footprint.

Leading luxury and sports fashion brands have formed investor partnerships with mycelium innovators to pilot mushroom-based leather products, kickstarting bigger strategies for future scale-ups. In October 2020 adidas, Stella McCartney, Lululemon and Gucci's parent company, Kering, announced a seven-figure investment in US biotech firm Bolt Threads' Mylo leather to fast-track progress and MycoWorks, which secured $45m in Series B funding earlier in 2020.

We invited Dan Widmaier, CEO and founder of Bolt Threads, onto our Create Tomorrow Podcast to discuss sustainability, industry change and innovation with our WGSN expert Helen Palmer, Head of Materials, Knit & Textiles.

Image of Dan Widmaier
Dan Widmaier, founder of Bolt Threads, photography Ashley Batz

Nature has the solution

“We started the company in 2009, three of us, out of a science lab. We’re all PhD nerds. We are not from the fashion industry. We saw a world where we thought climate change was to some degree inevitable. It was a bad bet to say that we were just going to turn off all our carbon-emitting everything in 2010. We had a vision of creating solutions for materials in particular because it’s a big chunk of the problem, and it requires a new kind of technology, a new kind of supply chain. We could point to a really good working model of how materials can be different and be circular, and it was the four billion years of life on Earth.”

Disrupting fashion

“We were really in love with the consumer market. The things we wear on our bodies all day, we think it’s an underserved market, but all our engineering buddies would make fun of us, like 'oh fashion, like that’s a real discipline for engineering’. In our opinion, anything that impacts every single human on the planet from a sustainability angle is by definition massive, and the fact that everyone made fun of us was a sign that it was underserved. It also doesn't hurt that my wife’s a fashion designer, so we put all these things together and said that’s the market we want to serve – it’s about 2% of global GDP and it has to change.”

Stan Smith trainers in Mylo leather
Stan Smith trainers in Mylo leather, courtesy of Adidas

Science will save us

“We had a strategic thesis on sustainability. Looking at the product, you’ve got this jadedness from consumers when they’re like: ‘I don’t know if it is what you say it is. I want a third party to validate it’, and a scientist-driven, third-party brand has found out that the strategy was right, it does validate it and consumers are going to prize that going forward.”
– Dan Widmaier, CEO, Bolt Threads

Luxury reinvented

“There’s a consumer shift. People really want to know about materials. Also science brands, certifications and branded fibres are entering consumers’ psyche. What’s really interesting is seeing a science-based company team up with a brand and create a new branded product that’s cutting-edge and innovative. It creates real excitement. It’s a new way of looking at luxury.”
– Helen Palmer, Head of Materials, Knit & Textiles, WGSN

Tune in to hear more about how the company has evolved, its collaborations with adidas and Stella McCartney, and the challenges of scaling up for the future in Episode 27 of our Create Tomorrow podcast, Material Gains for the Future with Mylo on Anchor, Apple and Spotify

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