First eco-friendly mushroom bags hit the US market

The first lab-grown leather handbags made from mushroom roots were put up for sale this week via a US-based crowdfunding website aiming to carve themselves a niche in the embryonic but fast-growing market for eco-friendly fashion.



 
The company behind the project, California-based Bolt Threads, has partnered with several brands, including Stella McCartney and Patagonia, to develop alternative bio materials that are less damaging to the environment than traditional fabrics. Fashion is the second-biggest polluter after the oil and gas industry in terms of carbon emissions, waste and use of natural resources.
 
Bolt Threads is testing consumer interest for its new $400 bag, a utilitarian unisex tote made from Mylo, a lab-grown fabric that has the look and feel of leather but is made with mycelium, or mushroom root structure. The Bolt Projects Mylo Driver Bag fitted with a canvas base was designed in collaboration with Oregon-based fashion brand Chester Wallace. It goes on sale via crowdfunding website Kickstarter on Wednesday at noon US eastern time. At first, just over 100 items will be available. Delivery is expected to start in the spring and continue throughout the year. Bolt Threads said it hoped to have sufficiently developed its production facilities to start selling them on a bigger scale by the end of next year.
 
“I think people are becoming increasing conscious of the environmental impact of cow-raising… and are now looking for alternatives when it comes to leather,” said Jamie Bainbridge, Vice President of Product Development at Bolt Threads.




 Using Bolt Threads’ Mylo material, Stella McCartney has developed a prototype of its best-selling Falabella bag with the chain strap and put it on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum's 'Fashioned from Nature' exhibit which lasts until the end of January 2019.
 
Bolt Threads also produces silk made from spider-web inspired DNA called Microsilk which Stella McCartney used to create a gold dress exhibited at New Yorkd’s MoMa’s 'Is Fashion Modern?' exhibit in October last year. At one of her fashion shows last year, the designer also showed backstage a brown knitted parachute pant and a body made with Bolt Threads’ Microsilk.

Bolt Threads is one of many bio-tech companies that have raised impressive amounts of money to develop and commercialize nature-friendly alternative fabrics. Bolt Threads has raised $213 million in funding to-date from major institutions including Fidelity Management and Research Company, Singapore based investment company Temasek which has also invested in Farfetch and China’s Tencent and Alibaba, private equity firm Formation 8/Builders VC and San Francisco-based Founders Fund.


Stella McCartney's Microsilk dress


Bolt Threads competes with the likes of Modern Meadow, a New Jersey-based company that specializes in lab-grown bio-fabricated leather materials. Like Bolt Threads, it has big ambitions in fashion and has retained the advisory services of industry veterans such as Mimma Viglezio, a former Gucci Group executive, François Kress, former Carolina Herrera CEO and Anna Bakst, who was group president of shoes and accessories at Michael Kors. Modern Meadow has developed a yeast that, when mixed with sugar, produces a collagen that then is purified, processed and tanned to create material which feels and looks like leather. Instead of collagen, Bolt Threads uses a different process based on mushroom root structure.

To create Mylo, Bolt Threads has partnered with upstate New York biomaterials company Ecovative to license the initial mycelium technology and perfect the process for commercial viability.

The sector for alternative materials is drawing growing interest from major fashion groups such as Kering and LVMH but it is still at early stage in terms of development. Initial production remains limited and finished products are costly. Bolt used a lottery system last year to sell 50 of its first spider-inspired silk neckties for $314 each which sold out in an hour. Bolt Threads said it had not done a product yet for Patagonia as it needed to build scale first before it could create a prototype and start production.  
 

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