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Innovation, Inspiration & Ideas

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From spider silk to mushroom leather, a California biotech company is looking to nature for inspiration in the development of next generation, engineered fabrics and materials. BOLT Threads first made waves for creating the first ties knit from commercially developed spider silk.  Now the company’s new leather-like material made from mushroom roots is being used by fashion designer Stella McCarthy to create a luxury leather fashion bag that is animal-free.

Building on two separate and distinct technologies, Bolt is developing ways to mass produce high performance engineered fabrics of the future.

Microsilk™ –  Engineered Spider Silk Produced by Yeast

3 neck ties made from spider silk
BOLT Thread’s prototype spider silk ties. Image source: BOLT Threads

Applying learnings from spider silk and the DNA that allows the creatures to make it, BOLT genetically alters yeast and produces spider silk proteins in large quantities by combining this yeast, sugar and water.  The company then spins the protein into fibers and weaves those fibers into fabrics.

Why the interest in spider silk? Silk fibers produced by spiders have a high tensile strength, even comparable to steel, and elasticity almost comparable to rubber. It’s been shown to be two to three times tougher than Kevlar and it’s hypoallergenic. All of these properties and more make spider silk of high interest as a potential source of fabric.

BOLT ‘s neckties are the first apparel commercially produced from engineered spider silk. The company sold 50 limited edition prototypes via a lottery system on their website last year for $314 each.

Mylo™ – Engineered Leather Grown from Mycelium Cells

handbag made of Mylo
Designer Stella McCartney’s Falabella bag made with Mylo™ Image source: BOLT Threads & Stella McCartney

Mycelium is the root structure of mushrooms.  It grows as a network of threads expanding underground.   BOLT is growing mycelium cells in beds of corn stalks. As the cells grow upward, they create a 3D network, which is then compressed into a sheet and tanned and dyed to make Mylo engineered leather.

This plant-based, engineered leather makes for an appealing solution to designers like Stella McCartney and consumers looking for animal-friendly material alternatives.

The first Stella McCartney handbag produced with Mylo is currently on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s London exhibition “Fashioned From Nature.”

Promising Future

Both Microsilk and Mylo are engineered fabrics / materials that have the potential to disrupt and define fabrics of the future.  BOLT Threads is continuing to expand its capabilities and capacities, gaining impressive partners like Patagonia and Stella McCartney in the process.  What might they introduce next?

The Innovation, Inspiration & Ideas blog was created to share stories and profiles of companies, products and individuals creating innovation in business through inventive material solutions. For more information on why we launched it, read our blog introduction.
Microsilk and Mylo are trademarks of BOLT Threads.
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About the Author

Allison Stroud

Allison Stroud is the managing editor of the Innovation, Inspiration & Ideas blog. A 14-year veteran of Nomaco, Allison specializes in marketing communications and serves as the company historian.

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