It looks like leather and it feels like leather. Soon, Mylo, the animal-free hide engineered from the branching root network that sprouts mushrooms, may even become as widely available as leather.
Or that’s the idea, anyway, behind the so-called Mylo consortium, a “highly unique and creative collaborative partnership” that brings together Mylo maker Bolt Threads, luxury conglomerate Kering and brands Adidas, Lululemon and Stella McCartney to bring products featuring the mycelium-based biomaterial to market in 2021, though details are scant about the form they will take.
“We are thrilled to be working with partners who recognize that we are in a race to develop sustainable solutions to conventional technologies,” Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads, said in a statement Friday. “They are joining forces, and investing in a solution that can scale: Mylo. The consortium unites four iconic and forward-thinking companies—Adidas, Kering, Lululemon and Stella McCartney—who collectively represent hundreds of millions of square feet of potential demand for Mylo. Most importantly, this is an ongoing commitment to develop materials and products for a more sustainable future.”
Stella McCartney, who famously eschews leather, furs and skins in her products, was an early adopter of Mylo, cladding her signature Falabella bag in the faux leather for a 2018 exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Now, the British designer is ready to take a deeper dive into an animal-friendlier world.
“Many people associate leather with luxury but since the beginning I always wanted to approach things in a different way because killing animals for the sake of fashion is quite simply not acceptable,” McCartney said. “Working so closely with Bolt Threads since 2017 has been a career-changing experience and I cannot wait to launch Mylo products to market in 2021.”
Mylo likewise appeals to Kering, which operates luxury strongholds like Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent—and, until 2018, Stella McCartney as well—and is keen on finding alternative materials and fabrics that can “potentially drastically reduce the environmental impact of our industry over the long term,” said chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault, who also spearheads the G7 Fashion Pact to mitigate fashion’s outsized environmental footprint. “I have always been convinced that innovation is key to addressing the sustainability challenges that luxury is facing.”
Bolt Threads said consortium partners were attracted to Mylo because of its “remarkable” resemblance to “soft, supple” animal leather, which is linked to polluting practices, particularly at the tanning stage, that can put the health and safety of workers and local communities at risk. Though bovine leather’s proponents say it’s a byproduct of the beef industry that would otherwise end up in the landfill, the material is also burdened with inescapable associations with factory farming, climate-warming methane emissions and deforestation in the Amazon. Mylo, Bolt Threads said, takes fewer than two weeks to grow, versus years for cattle, and emits fewer greenhouse gases and uses less water and resources than animal leather.
The San Francisco company cultivates Mylo using a “highly efficient grow process” that coaxes the mycelium to extend upward and into an organized mat of enmeshed cells. Bolt Threads then harvests this mat, processing it with preferred-chemistry dyes and non-chromium-based tanning agents. Finally, it stamps the material with a pattern to give it a leather-like texture.
Because Bolt Threads keeps a tight handle on growth conditions, including temperature and humidity, it can direct the mycelium’s development and control the resulting material’s thickness, shape and other attributes.
“For too long the industry standard has categorized materials as either natural or highly functional—but not both,” said James Carnes, vice president of global brand strategy at Adidas. “The way to remedy this is to innovate responsibly with solutions that challenge the status quo, and products that use the best of what nature has spent millions of years perfecting—like Mylo—are critical to that.”
Biomaterials have their naysayers, such as California natural textiles collaborative Fibershed, which cites the lack of oversight of such technologies and the possible spillover of genetically engineered organisms or their biological debris into the environment as areas of concern. (Bolt Threads says that the mycelium it uses is not genetically modified.) More pointedly, they would rather companies turn away from tinkering with synthetic biology in a lab and toward regenerative solutions that sustain and rehabilitate existing natural ecosystems.
But the Mylo consortium believes it is investing in a material that, beyond the attractive marketing story, will ultimately be better for the planet.
“The Mylo consortium demonstrates how leading global brands can collaborate across industries to be part of a lasting solution to restore a healthy environment,” said Sun Choe, chief product officer at Lululemon. “We firmly believe that innovation and sustainability are key to the future of retail.”