The adidas Sustainability Series
Way better materials for a way better world. That’s a pretty lofty corporate vision, but the folks at Bolt Threads have never shied away from big goals. In fact, the company was founded by three scientists who wanted to solve a problem that had stymied university and corporate research teams for decades: How to make spider’s silk, one of earth’s most amazing inventions, without spiders.
The core of their plan was to take cues from nature to find new and better ways to make the materials in our lives: Innovative materials that met the performance requirements for today’s consumer goods but are made using fewer resources like water and energy, and without harmful chemical inputs.
“The solutions have been here since before humans were on this planet, and we finally have the technology and ability to tap into that solution set and make it a reality,” says Bolt co-founder and CEO Dan Widmaier.
adidas and Bolt Threads join forces
While working on the spider’s silk challenge, the team at Bolt met the advanced R&D team at adidas. “In those early years, we met with nearly every consumer brand you can think of,” says Widmaier. “And we learned that while many companies are looking to make their supply chains more sustainable, there are not many that understand how to work with innovative startups like Bolt. adidas is one of the few.”
In 2019, Bolt and adidas teamed up with Stella McCartney to make a tennis dress from yarns composed partially of man-made spider’s silk. “We learned so much from making that gorgeous dress,” says Bolt’s VP of Product Jamie Bainbridge. “The first lesson was that spider silk wasn’t yet ready to compete on price and performance with other textile fibers. But more importantly, we learned that adidas was a terrific partner because they were collaborative, solution-oriented and patient.”
Meanwhile, another innovative material from nature was piquing the curiosity of the scientific team at Bolt – Mylo.
Mylo is a 100% animal-free material, made from mycelium, the underground roots of mushrooms. It is a nature-based material created using a highly efficient growing process that is intentionally designed to be low impact. For instance, it takes just weeks to grow the mycelium used in Mylo. The process takes advantage of a cutting-edge vertical agriculture technique, allowing the mycelium to be grown in a space-efficient system that increases the yield per square foot. In developing Mylo, Bolt made every effort to reduce the number of inputs used. Adhering to principles of Green Chemistry, Bolt evaluates all inputs into production and selects the least hazardous chemicals and substances available.
Compared to a spider, which spins a single strand of filament at a time, mushrooms are veritable textile factories. It all happens underneath the forest floor, where mushrooms produce enormous webs of interconnected filaments, called mycelium. These mycelium fibers essentially assemble themselves into textile-like mats which, with a minimal amount of processing, are a great natural material solution.
Fast forward to today, adidas has introduced the Stan Smith Mylo as a proof of concept. The plan is to release a small drop within 12 months and then gradually scale up from there.
The power of collaboration
Getting to this point was a long journey with countless twists and turns. At the outset, adidas joined forces with three other companies in the Mylo Consortium, a unique alliance of brands working together to bring Mylo to market.
Each partner within the Consortium has a product they are keen to make from Mylo, but athletic footwear has the highest standard for material performance. Making a new textile that can withstand the demands of the average human running around in a pair of trainers is an incredibly high bar for a new technology, says Bainbridge.
All of this was done with a commitment to producing an innovative material that could meet or exceed the high sustainability requirements of adidas and the other Consortium brands. “When we started down this path, the goal was not just to make the world’s most sustainable material, but to make the world’s most widely used sustainable material,” says Bolt CEO Widmaier.
Bolt is working to be part of a healthier agricultural economy, working with traditional farmers and tanners to pivot and innovate their current business to be more sustainable and future-proof.
“We’ve intentionally set really high standards for ourselves in terms of sustainability” says Bainbridge. “And we intentionally selected partners like adidas who will hold us to those standards and push us toward better and better processes.”
“As a planet, we must learn to work with nature rather than against it and put all our efforts into finding innovative solutions that are created responsibly with resources that renew at a sustainable pace. Designed in synergy with earth’s ecosystems. And as a brand, we continue to explore the possibilities in material innovation,” says Amy Jones Vaterlaus, Global Head of Future at adidas.
In getting to this point, Bolt Threads and adidas, along with the other Consortium partners, have used mycelium not just as an input to a material, but also as an inspiration for our work. Just as mycelium grows into interconnected networks of branching threads, Bolt and adidas have created a network around Mylo that reaches from the benches of Bolt’s labs, to the adidas footwear designers’ desks, to the hands of the consumer who will eventually remove the shoes from the box. Working collectively, we can all strive to minimize the impact to air, water and earth at every step.