Growing Fabric with Bolt Threads
I visited Bolt Threads in Oakland which is just across the bridge from San Francisco. Bolt Threads are leading the way for textile innovation in the fashion industry. They have developed mushroom leather and a synthetic spider silk. Both innovations could change the face of the fashion industry by creating two naturally derived fabrics that can replace the existing ones that cause huge toxic waste, dangerous manufacturing conditions and animal cruelty. I visited leather tanners in India and it was a fairly awful experience. It was in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai which was in itself is a phenomenal example of entrepreneurship and recycling. The slum was a huge network of homes, businesses and schools and was very much a microcosm of society. The tannery section was kept well away from the homes and the smell was overwhelming. The whole place was covered in blood and all the workers covered in blood also. It was like stumbling upon a massacre. However there is high demand for cheap leather goods so this was a very busy tannery and the workers were working hard. Ireland was once a country of great leather production which worked in tandem with the beef industry however now all the skins are sent abroad for tanning. Nobody wants to work in a tannery; the work is difficult, dirty and toxic.
Back to Bolt Threads. I met with Jamie Bainbridge at their Oakland offices and she was such an interesting person. She has had an incredibly influential career with industry big hitters such as Patagonia and Nike, holding key sustainability positions in both. The actual Bolt Threads office is made up of labs which are right next to the offices. It was amazing to see such a multidisciplinary team at work. Groups of scientists and engineers in the labs creating samples and testing. All the traditional fabric making equipment was on view like spinnerets but using them in a different way. Bolt Threads is made up of scientists, engineers and apparel experts. Bolt Threads is an example of a business of the future. Jamie explained to me that it is no longer feasible to have business with just one revenue stream for example the likes of Goretex. Now it is necessary to have multiple ways to generate income. In the case of Bolt, they have purchased New York based Best Made Company which is a heritage clothing and equipment brand. Currently Bolt are not wholesaling their fabric. They are working with brands like Stella McCartney to develop their materials which gives huge brand leverage and also they are designing their own limited edition products with their material, for example the Mylo bag.