LEATHER is considered to be one of the oldest and most useful materials to mankind. Our ancestors used every part of their kill, including the hide, for food, clothing, and shelter (Moore & Gilles, History). There was little to no waste created in the leather industry in our past. Leather was tanned with vegetables and bark in order to preserve its structural integrity in order for it to be used successfully. Dating back to 5000 BC, wall paintings and artifacts in Egyptian tombs recorded that leather was used for sandals, clothes, gloves, buckets, bottles, military equipment, and shrouds for burying their dead (History of Leather-Moore & Gilles, History).
Our ancestors found a multitude of uses for each part of the animals and plants at their disposal. However, animals today are solely raised for the meat and dairy industry while hides have become by-products that are often left unused.
According to PETA, the process of turning skin into leather “requires massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based”. Most of the leather that is produced in the US creates by-products that are considered hazardous by the EPA.(Environmental Hazards of Leather, PETA)
I personally believe that leather can still be used sustainably, just on a smaller scale. Small farmers and those who live in rural towns can sustainably enjoy the meat, dairy, and leather industry because of their proximity to and access to large plots of land. (This is without considering the ethical concerns that surround the domestication of farm animals). Using every part of the animal cuts back on the waste that is commonly created by industrial-size farms.
BOLT THREADS: INSPIRED BY NATURE: DESIGNING FOR OUR FUTURE
As the world becomes more affected by climate change, we are seeing more companies and small businesses emerge surrounding sustainability and a dedication to more environmentally friendly practices. Alternatives for materials commonly used in products and the fashion industry are slowly being recreated with a plethora of new and eco-conscious materials. Plastic is being replaced by compostable/biodegradable substitutes like cardboard, hemp, paper, or bamboo. Shockingly, Leather is being replaced by mushrooms!
Not only can mushrooms be used as a meat alternative in cooking, but they can also be used to make cleaner fashion accessories. We reached out to a fairly new company (of 10 years), called BoltThreads, which has dedicated its company's mission to creating alternatives to leather and silk through bio-engineering. Marilla Perkins, Senior Director of Marketing and Strategic Comms lends her point of view on the BoltThreads corporation.
Graycen: What inspired the creation of Bolt Threads?
Marilla: Bolt Threads is a biotechnology company working to invent and scale sustainable material alternatives for the apparel and footwear industries. Our founders created Bolt Threads because they were inspired by nature, specifically what we could learn from its 4 billion years of evolution. Even more specifically, they were inspired by one of nature’s most incredible materials, spider silk, and wanting to recreate this versatile, strong material sustainably.
G: What was your biggest challenge when starting this company/starting at this company?
M: Our founders will say that 10+ years ago when they were trying to raise money, some people they spoke with didn’t understand why they wanted to create “green” materials as there wasn’t as much market demand. Fortunately, I think a lot has changed over the past decade and now we see higher demand from both brands and consumers for products with smaller environmental footprints.
G: What do you think are the most important aspects of the fashion industry that need to be changed (or removed) from the production process? (chemicals, animal products, overuse of water, etc)
M: At Bolt, we look at the entire life cycle of our materials from raw inputs to end-of-life. We use a data-focused framework to help us make decisions at each stage of production to help reduce our impact on people and the planet. This work is expensive and time-consuming, but I think this sort of holistic approach is one of the most important things that the industry can do to lead to real change.
G: What is your view of using real leather to create products? I have a close friend who makes her own purses and shoulder bags out of real leather and I have one myself. Do you think there is such a thing as sustainable leather use?
M: Personally I think there are sustainable ways to use animal leather as it is a strong and durable material capable of being passed down, reworked, resold. I think the challenge is that a planet with 10B people can’t live the same way that a planet with 1B people did. We have more people on the planet today who are consuming more products than ever before, so we need sustainable alternatives to the materials people know and love, like leather.
G: What role do you believe Bolt Threads plays in the quest for a more sustainable future in fashion?
M: We aim to be a trusted partner to brands and designers working to make beautiful garments and footwear with a lower environmental impact. Bolt is a company of scientists and engineers, so we can do the experimentation and R&D work necessary to invent new materials, but we need strong brand partners who give feedback and help us create high-quality materials capable of being used in high-design products.
G: What measures are you taking to make your products more accessible to young people or people who view sustainability as out of reach or too expensive?
M: The short answer is that breakthrough technology takes a long time. At this stage, Mylo is dependent on large brands like our partners Adidas, Kering, Lululemon, Stella McCartney to help subsidize the massive costs that come with developing a novel process and building a supply chain to make Mylo material at commercial scale. Accessibility is 100% our goal for Mylo material and while it is not currently available for sale beyond our exclusive consortium partners, we are working to increase supply so we can collaborate with additional brands, upcoming designers, and make products available at a lower price point in the future.
G: What lies ahead for you and for BoltThreads (if anything)?
M: We recently announced the creation of a collaborative consortium with four iconic global companies who will commercialize our latest material: Mylo (the “unleather”). These partners include Adidas, Kering, Lululemon, and Stella McCartney some of whom have started to reveal products publicly - a Stan Smith Mylo from Adidas, a concept yoga mat from lululemon, and more - this year. I’m looking forward to seeing products made with Mylo become available for purchase from these brands, and from more partners, and to make our sustainable materials more accessible and available to designers and young people.
Here are some lovely tunes from a playlist we found-as the author of the playlist states in her description: May we reach towards one another like the underground networks that weave through mycelium.
Mylo Unleather Website
Meet The Women Fueling Fashion's Shroom Boom by Ellie Pithers (2021) Vogue UK
by Audrey Staton
Soon, You Could Be Wearing Mushroom Leather. But Will It Be Better for the Environment? (2021) By Leslie Nemo
Is Vegan Leather Sustainable, Sustainable Jungle (2021)