In a retail market that is becoming responsive to the demands of consumers who are increasingly more eco-conscious in their purchasing decisions and are growing more interested in fashion innovation, there is still room for considerable improvement for environmentally friendly options when it comes to products like shoes and accessories, which are often made from conventional leather or petroleum-based materials.
While it’s exciting that demand for vegan products and fashion innovation is on the rise; evident in the fact that companies are intentionally labeling products as “vegan-friendly,’” it honestly doesn’t feel like much of a triumph purchasing a vegan-friendly handbag or pair of shoes when it’s made from plastic. Knowing what we know about how terrible plastics are for our planet, particularly marine animals, one could hardly say that those vegan bags are cruelty-free.
Leather – an environmental hazard
But, from an environmental standpoint, leather is no better.
The leather industry is incredibly resource-intensive and damaging to our environment. Tannery effluents containing chromium and other chemicals have rendered waterways toxic, and widespread illnesses in communities surrounding leather tanneries is commonplace.
These industries need to be disrupted. Recycling and upcycling materials into consumer goods is a great alternative to using conventional leathers and virgin plastics, but it’s time to move away from these materials all together. Brands need access to quality, high-performance, novel textiles.
And this is where some innovative brands might just be the disruptors we need to turn the fashion and textiles industries on their heads….or, at the very least, open our eyes to the role that biotechnology can play in driving the future of fashion.
Creativity meets sustainability
Bolt Threads, a materials innovations company, draws their inspiration from nature, which they believe holds the key to solving many of our problems.
Recognising that the textile industry is rife with waste and sustainability issues, they’ve made it their mission to create lab-grown materials that are sustainable without sacrificing performance, quality, or aesthetic. And because they grow their materials in a highly controlled environment, they are able to manipulate them to meet targeted needs, like stretch or water-resistance, for example.
The brand’s Microsilk material is a silk alternative inspired by silk proteins found in nature – the brand crafts the materials by putting genes into yeast and using yeast, sugar and water in a fermentation process, which results in a versatile yarn that can be spun into different fabrics.
After developing the ground-breaking Microsilk and working with sustainably inclined fashion brands such as Stella McCartney and Patagonia, Bolt Threads are ready for a new frontier: developing a sustainable, resistant and vegan-friendly fabric made from a vegan food staple, mushrooms.
Innovation from nature
Mushrooms are already a beloved staple in the diet of many, vegans or not. Venerated for their meat-like texture, versatility, and rich, savory flavor profile, their abundance in quantities and varieties throughout nature make them quite an excellent sustainable food source.
But what if mushrooms held the key to a more sustainable future not only in our food systems, but in the textile and fashion industries as well?
Mylo is Bolt Threads’ new leather-like fabric grown entirely from mycelium cells.
Mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, grows in vast networks forming a 3D micro-scale mesh structure, which is responsible for holding together and supporting the forest floor.
By growing mycelium cells in beds of corn stalks with other nutrients, Bolt Threads’ scientists are able to encourage the mycelium to grow upward and self-assemble into organized mats. These mats, which gives the mycelium its strength, is then compressed to its desired thickness and tanned using natural materials. And Voila – a beautiful, durable, and sustainable material is born – but without polluting ground water, using toxic chemicals, or killing anyone.
A bio-degradable material, Mylo looks and feels a lot like leather made from animal hides. It has superior moisture management properties than fabrics made from synthetic leathers, and is soft and supple, yet strong.
Bolt Threads plans on conducting a full life cycle analysis of Mylo before its commercial rollout, but it already seems clear, from a sustainability standpoint, that Mylo is the obvious winner when compared to both conventional and synthetic leathers.
Mylo does not require the energy and resources or waste associated with raising and killing livestock to produce conventional leather, nor does it require the various toxic chemicals used in the production of polyurethane. In fact, Mylo takes only a few weeks to produce and is completely biodegradable.
In April of this year, Bolt Threads unveiled a partnership with Stella McCartney, who produced a handbag using Mylo for display at the Victoria and Albert’s Museum’s Fashion From Nature exhibit.
This year, Bolt Threads is taking pre-orders for the release of their own bag.
We can’t wait to see the Mylo story unfold, and look forward to its large scale commercial release. Hopefully brands beyond Stella McCartney will recognise the importance of transitioning to materials that are better for the planet, and we would love to see a day when “leather” is no longer made from animals.
All photos courtesy of Bolt Threads