Since no animals are involved in production, the company has been embraced by vegans, including fashion designer Stella McCartney. Its "spider silk"— Microsilk™—is made using real spider DNA inserted into fungal yeast cells. The yeast, grown at scale in fermenters, extrudes silk proteins which are then collected, purified and spun.
And individual spider can create six or seven different kinds of silk (soft, stretchy, stiff, etc). All told there are a staggering 240,000+ varieties of natural silk, so the potential to create new fibers literally is endless.
Bolt's second product, which launched last month, is called Mylo™—a hat tip the mushroom mycelia from which the faux leather is made. More fungal fun!
The vegan market—no matter how passionate—isn't nearly large enough to generate the kind of investor excitement that raises hundreds of millions of dollars. Bolt's pitch transcends dietary preference: the promise of better products that can deliver healthy profits for many years to come.
It doesn't hurt that microbes are a cheap date, which helps boost margins. Yeast eat sugar, while mycelia dine on corn stalks. Likewise, microbes don't take up a lot of room. Compared to cattle ranches and CAFOs, a microbe factory has a correspondingly itty bitty footprint. That makes it possible set one up almost anywhere, which in turn simplifies supply chains and reduces costs. Also there are no veterinary bills or smelly livestock waste to manage. Finally, products made from biomaterials biodegrade in landfills.
Fashion is where the science of microbe-mediated materials meets art. Bolt's fibers have been featured in two high-profile fashion exhibits over the last year: Items: Is Fashion Design? at MoMA in New York, and Fashioned from Nature, which just opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. For a company that was started less than a decade ago pitching a product no one knew could be made that is extraordinary.
Oh to be sheathed in a gown of gossamer spider silk paired with a mycelial purse! It's faerie tale and earthy and yes, yes, yes, it's me! Now I just have to wait for the fashion to filter down to UNIQLO to match my price point.
• Is fashion modern? | HOW TO SEE the Items exhibition with MoMA curator Paola Antonelli | video
• Fashion as Design | Coursera course based on MoMA exhibit
• Bolt Threads Joins Modern Meadow in the quest to bring lab-grown leather to market | TechCrunch
• Ecovative Design: The Mycelium Biofabrication Platform | website
• You Think This Has Nothing to Do With You (The Devil Wears Prada) | video
* Bolt is located in Emeryville, a small town near Berkeley and Oakland that is also home to Pixar Animation Studios, Peet's Coffee & Tea, Jamba Juice and Clif Bar. Emeryville, here I come...