As the world continues to suffer the effects of climate change caused mainly by human activities, there is an increased focus on ways to limit any action that contributes to the destruction of the only planet we can call home for now. Almost every industry that contributes to global economies has been deemed guilty of non-sustainable practices, including the fashion industry.
Now, four major fashion houses, in collaboration with the US biotechnology company, Bolt Threads, are seeking to end this narrative. Adidas, Stella McCartney, Lululemon and Kering have joined forces and funds to help level up the production capabilities of Mylo, a novel material grown from mycelium that imitates the look and feel of animal leather. The plan is to create a supply chain for the vegan leather which would allow it to be manufactured at a commercially viable scale.
The consortium is made up of a strategic mix of luxury and sportswear brands in a bid to showcase that a novel, bio-based material can live up to the high aesthetic and performance standards that are inherent in these industries.
What is Mylo?
Mylo is a material that looks and feels like real leather, and whose core ingredient is mycelium, the thread-structure that mushrooms and other fungi use to grow, much like the roots of a tree. These mycelium cells are fed with sawdust and other organic material and placed on square growing mats. In a humidity and temperature-controlled environment, they are allowed to grow into a foamy layer – “imagine a big bag of smashed marshmallows” – and finally harvested.
Through further processing, this mycelium network is turned into a sheet of material that resembles cork but is much thinner and more flexible, which is then tanned and dyed by the same tanneries that work with animal leathers. These processes normally involve harmful chemicals such as chromium, which can lead to wastewater pollution while adversely affecting the health of workers. Bolt Threads claims it only works with companies that have been awarded global sustainability certifications.
Compared to animal leather, the company claims that the process of producing the material emits fewer greenhouse gases while consuming less water and natural resources than are involved in the rearing of livestock. Unlike synthetic leather alternatives, it also does not use any petroleum-based plastics such as polyurethane or PVC, which emit carbon as they are produced and would take hundreds of years to break down in landfills.
However, there is no publicly available data to verify how much carbon is emitted and how many resources are consumed during the process of making Mylo, as well as how the material will impact the environment when it is ultimately disposed of. But Bolt Threads vice president of product development, Jamie Bainbridge, said an independent lifecycle analysis of the material will be undertaken in 2021 when it is hoped that the partner brands will have products from the material on shelves.
Mylo has been used in the past to create an actual product. In 2018, Stella McCartney, a longtime collaborator with Bolt Thread made her iconic, chain-trim Falabella bag from the material. Although it was never made commercially available, the one-off piece was put on display as part of the V&A’s Fashioned From Nature exhibition in the same year.