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When change slows down

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Fashion |Opinion

Credits: Mylo™

US-based Bolt Threads, which is developing vegan mushroom leather Mylo, is pressing pause due to lack of funding. Do we prefer to invest in AI because it is sexier than innovative materials?

When US startup Bolt Threads launched bio-based material Mylo in 2018, the material was hailed as one of the most sustainable alternatives to animal leather. The product, which resembles leather, is made from mycelium that forms the basis of mushrooms underground. After failing to secure the necessary funding to scale up, the company pressed the pause button in June 2023.

Global praise and co-brands

The startup was backed by British fashion designer Stella McCartney, who has deliberately never worked with leather, fur or other animal skins. But the designer is aware that alternatives are not perfect: the production of plastics also has an impact on the environment, as they are made from petroleum. For this reason, she partnered with Bolt Threads and launched the first Mylo clothing collection on the market in 2021.

Luxury group Kering, sportswear brand Adidas and other labels also invested in the company, but global praise and leading co-brands proved insufficient to enable further growth. Scaling up is now one of the most expensive and difficult challenges for companies, and there are apparently no shortcuts.

"We paused Mylo™ to evaluate what is working well now and what will work in the future," CEO Dan Widmaier told Vogue Business.

The pandemic as a (temporary) innovation accelerator

With the pause, Bolt Threads is already not ruling out selling the technology to get Mylo™ back on the market. And to further change the world, because it is much needed.

The necessary abrupt interruption of global supply chains during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 not only boosted local thinking, but also further stimulated the search for new, sustainable materials. In addition, the world of tomorrow is characterised by material poverty. If, as the UN predicts, the global population reaches the 10 billion mark by 2050, we will need the natural resources of almost three planets to sustain our current lifestyles unabated.

People are aware that they need to slow down the pace of overconsumption and overproduction; otherwise, our planet will be lost. Within the creative world, we see a social awareness and the increasing use of found, recycled or (re)invented materials where these materials are an important emotional element.

Despite the fact that the development of alternative materials has gained popularity in recent years, investors' attention seems to be turning to another novelty today. "Those who have managed to raise funding in the last 18 months are mainly concerned with AI," Widmaier says.

Biomaterials as inspiration

Bolt Threads was a pioneer in the world of materials innovation and led the way for others. "Next-generation innovators have the vision, but it's up to brands and consumers to see the value in supporting startups that change the fashion industry for the better," the Stella McCartney team announced in a statement to Vogue Business.

Future material poverty challenges us to look differently at the materials and raw materials we use today. When makers and scientists join forces, new, even local opportunities can emerge. A lot of designers are aware of this, including Laura Lynn Jansen and Thomas Vailly, and Violaine Buet.

The embryo of stone

Stones, minerals and gemstones are mined and then cut or polished into shape. But what if we could reverse this process and grow three-dimensional stone objects without mining them? For their research project "CaCo3", Laura Lynn Jansen and Thomas Vailly collaborated with scientists, geologists and craftsmen and explored the possibilities.

The result is a collection of table objects. To create each piece in the collection, the designers placed a 3D-printed nylon skeleton in specially chosen thermo-mineral wells, where natural geological processes deposit calcium carbonate on the structure - this follows the same natural process that forms stalagmites and stalactites in caves. Through this process, they obtained a product with characteristics similar to terracotta or porcelain.

Sea weave

Designer Violaine Buet found inspiration in the use of seaweed. Like a true craftswoman, she 'tamed' the kelp she harvested on the beaches of her native Brittany. Weaving, tufting, dyeing, engraving, cutting out, braiding, embossing, knotting, printing, observing, caressing... A true process of discovery from which new textiles emerged and new processes were invented.

"With ennobled seaweed, I see the birth of a new craft discipline. A craft dealing with an organic material, a factor of biodegradability, a sustainable resource."

Violaine Buet

Buet is convinced that a great interest in biomaterials from kelp could develop very quickly; yet she hopes that this new relationship between algae and humans will instead take a slower pace, where we are not looking for quick results and profits, but for long-term good.

When fantasy becomes reality

What once sounded like fantasy became reality a few years ago: the emergence of new, sustainable materials as designers study the world of biotechnology and agriculture. The development of new materials and their local production could provide a solution to future material poverty. It (re)introduces a new, short chain that can have a positive impact on local employment, the local economy and social connections within the local community.

Therefore, let the pause button at Mylo™ be a wake-up call to continue investing in the development of new sustainable materials.

Written by Katrien Meermans. Katrien is founder of Stille Bliksem. She is an expert in copywriting, PR and communication strategy and trend research. See stillebliksem.be

Bolt Threads
Sustainable Fashion