Leather is notoriously difficult to replace with a vegan and environmentally friendly textile. But an up-and-coming textile manufacturer, Bolt Threads might just have the solution: Leather made of mushrooms. It’s described as being “everything you love about leather, without everything you don’t.”
Bolt Threads, a company driven to find the future of high-performance materials, engineered mycelium into a sustainable bio-based leather substitute known as Mylo.
Mycelium can best be described as the roots of a mushroom. They have sprawled beneath the ground we walk on and served as ecological connective tissue for as long as we can remember. This nexus of fungal threads breaks down organic matter and provides nutrients to plants and trees every day.
With the recent release of “Fantastic Fungi” on Netflix, many are learning about the multifaceted wonders of mushrooms and their mycelium, from health benefits, to sustainable decomposition of waste and, surprisingly, fashion. As an industry, fashion is known to leave its wake of environmental damages as fast fashion purchases and trend cycles rise, spawning young designers desperate to find ways to slow the impact their products have on the planet. Eco-textiles have become increasingly popular and brands pour efforts into scientific experimentation with various new materials. Such is the case with Mylo.
The process of producing Mylo takes less than two weeks and begins with mycelium cells grown on beds of renewable, organic matter. Billions of cells grow and create an interlaced 3D network which is then processed using Green Chemistry principles and emerges as a soft, supple textile. Mylo is then tanned and dyed to become the material that sparked the “mushroom leather” movement. The 100% renewable energy-powered agriculture facility that mycelium is grown in and the significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions makes this material an up-and-coming sustainable textile to work with.
The scientists behind Bolt Threads now work with their Mylo Consortium, a group of world- renowned brands that invest in meaningful innovations, such as Adidas, Lululemon and Stella McCartney. These companies were chosen for their product quality, global reach and devotion to innovation.
Stella McCartney was there at Mylo’s inception and has been an integral part in collaborating innovative technology with high fashion. Their first constructed Mylo project was a bustier top and utilitarian trousers from panels of Mylo laid on recycled nylon scuba. Some time later, McCartney presented The Frayme Mylo, a bag inspired by the Falabella tote that reinvigorates brand codes while progressing into the realm of sustainability. The Frayme was part of her fungi-inspired Summer 2022 collection and was the first ever Mylo bag to walk the runway at Paris Fashion Week.
Adidas introduced the first-ever shoe made from Mylo in April 2021. To showcase the extent of innovation, Adidas constructed their most iconic pair of sneakers, the Stan Smith, out of Mylo. The fresh take on a classic style enables Adidas to demonstrate Mylo’s ability to substitute for long-standing leather fan favorites.
“By creating the iconic Stan Smith with a Mylo material upper, Adidas is demonstrating the far-reaching potential of this innovative material,” VP of Product at Bolt Threads Jamie Bainbridge said. “We are thrilled to be working with Adidas in the kind of development partnership that makes innovation a reality. Mylo has the strength and performance it does today thanks to the guidance and deep technical expertise of the Adidas team in making great footwear.”
Lululemon proved Mylo is not just for the fashion community and designed a Mylo yoga accessory collection that includes a concept yoga mat. This yoga mat is the first product to use Mylo as something other than a substitute for leather. The mat, made from undyed Mylo strips, plays with varying woven patterns to guide hand and feet placement during practice. The collection also includes a yoga mat bag and duffel that showcased Mylo features such as zippers and braided handles.
“As a premium athletic brand, having innovative and proprietary fabrics and other materials that help guests feel their best to perform their best is something we’re proud of,” said Sun Choe, chief product officer at Lululemon. “Sustainable innovation will continue to play a key role in the future of retail and product, and for us, leveraging a material like Mylo demonstrates our commitment to creating a healthier environment through lower-impact products, while also giving us the ability to reimagine iconic pieces in our line through a sustainability lens.”
From high-fashion brands to athletic brands to street wear, Mylo is proving itself versatile and significantly better for the environment than classic leather. It will be interesting to see how it trickles down to become an accessible textile alternative to leather for everyone. Of course, innovations need the global reach and quality production of higher end brands to connect with their audience. However, it will be exciting to see how technology such as this is also used to empower people in all fashion markets to make sustainable and eco-friendly choices in their wardrobe and beyond.