Innovation in sustainable materials has abounded in recent years as brands become more aware of their environmental impact. But large-scale production and adoption has been a common challenge — one that Bolt Threads is hoping to disrupt. The material company has announced a consortium with four major global brands, in an effort to launch its new renewable textile Mylo in a scalable way.
Popularly known as “mushroom leather,” Mylo is derived from mycelium fibers which form a latticework through soil and help to break down organic matter — mushrooms are their “fruit.” Bolt Threads grows these fibers for commercial use by reproducing this process in a controlled, indoor environment. The mycelium layer is then harvested, processed and dyed, resulting in an alternative textile to leather.
“The Mylo production process has been designed from day one to be capable of scaling to millions of square feet of production at a cost and quality that is competitive with animal hide,” said Jamie Bainbridge, VP of product development at Bolt Threads. “This also means a world-class supply chain. You have to be consistent with both the approach to sustainability and product quality all the way through the supply chain, which we are with Mylo.”
This is where Bolt Threads is diverging from the usual manufacturing approach. Instead of independently producing its textile and then working with brands to coordinate sales and minimum purchases, the company has created a consortium to help fund and develop the material from the earliest stage. The four global brands that currently comprise the consortium are Adidas, Kering, Lululemon and Stella McCartney.
Being part of the consortium involves committing a substantial financial investment, as well as considerable time. Bainbridge describes the partnership as involving regular meetings and discussions about both material performance and aesthetic. By involving these brands at the development stage, it is hoped that Mylo will meet all design and quality needs, so that it can be seamlessly incorporated into new collections.
The financial investment also allows the company to commit to scaling the production process early, so that it can enter the market without quantity restrictions. By partnering with brands that have a global presence, Bolt has also assured that its product will reach a sizeable audience from launch — and potentially expand from there, leading to greater environmental change.
“The consortium is about redefining the role of brands to advance sustainability initiatives; setting new industry standards; and helping change the fashion and sports industry’s environmental impact, through developing better processes and products,” said James Carnes, global VP of strategy at Adidas. “We recognize that this consortium is the type of initiative that’s needed, as the urgency requires an approach that no brand can solve alone.“
Bolt Threads is not the only sustainable textile in the market, but it will launch with multiple products, not just a one-off — a common situation for many innovative new sustainable materials. This gap between creation and wide-spread usage is not necessarily due to lack of interest. Instead, many smaller brands struggle to meet the minimums that are frequently imposed for such textiles, while larger brands might have their own internal developments that they are committed to instead.
This has not proved an obstacle for Bolt.
Adidas, for instance, is one such brand with a robust internal R&D operation, however the company told FN it is committed to third-party collaboration. In fact, Adidas has previously partnered with both Bolt and Stella McCartney on a tennis dress concept at Wimbledon 2019, which incorporated Bolt’s protein-based Microsilk.
“Enhancing internal R&D with third-party expertise is an important part of how we approach innovation overall,” said Carnes. “It gives us new solutions and perspectives from outside creative thinkers. We foster ‘open-source’ partnerships and put a high value on collaboration to help create the best possible sustainable solutions that go beyond our own business and influence.”
The Mylo textile is expected to have applications across footwear, apparel and accessories, much like its animal-hide counterpart. Like other biomaterials, working with the textile will require different design and production approaches than traditional leather. However, Bolt hopes that this will inspire greater creativity, rather than provide limitations; the material is still able to take on any color, finish and emboss.
The first collections that utilize Mylo will be available for purchase in 2021.