Tom Hogarth

Deputy Editor

International Leather Maker

One of the major headlines on everyone’s lips in the leather industry is the recent decision by biomaterials producer Bolt Threads to cease production of its mycelium material Mylo, a product which was intended to compete with leather and appeal to vegans.

Mylo was backed by a consortium composed of Stella McCartney, Kering, Adidas and Lululemon, and had even collaborated with Germany tanner Heller-Leder on its production. If you’d like to read more about this collaboration, check out our interview with Heller-Leder CEO Thomas Strebost on page 60 of ILM September/October 2022.

In the feature, Strebost explained that working with Bolt Threads was a way for the company to diversify as well as promote the interests of the leather industry, helping to soften anti-leather marketing and learn new lessons that would aid in further developing its leather production.

However, despite this help, Bolt Threads was forced to close its production of Mylo due to a lack of funding. Backed by some of the biggest names in fashion retail and clothing and raising more than US$300 million in funding was not enough to get the material to commercial scale, though CEO Dan Widmaier said that the company was “devastatingly close” to that point.

It’s also worth highlighting that, despite the influence of Heller-Leder, Bolt Threads launched the Greener Pastures Pledge in November 2022, an initiative that required brands to drop traditional leather from their products entirely if they wanted preferential access to Mylo. Perhaps this was an additional factor in the demise of Mylo, as many brands are adopting biomaterials as an additional offering for their customers rather than an outright replacement for leather.

Warning signs

If all that driving force and funding cannot get a biomaterial across the line, what can? It’s fair to ask whether this is an enormous red flag for the fate of so-called vegan materials going forward. While it’s obvious that these materials have been steadily evolving in terms of efficient production, performance and support, many investors will be questioning whether sinking so much money into a project that may well fail before the end is worth it.

With the two industries so closely linked in the supply chain, we frequently compare the issues facing the leather industry with the meat industry and this is particularly easy to do when looking at the rise (and fall) of vegan products.

On the food industry side of things, we’ve seen meat alternatives and vegan specific product lines come and go over the past few years and while this can be attributed to misguided attempts at pioneering new products or failed start-ups, several cases recently have been down to declines in the market and the inability of these businesses to weather those storms.

While this happens, the meat and leather industries continue to provide answers for the problems that these products hope to solve: greater sustainability, ethical production, traceability and a net positive environmental impact. While there are plenty of black sheep throughout the supply chain, our industries are making improvements on an almost monthly basis.


All the while, the environmental impact of so-called “vegan” products comes into question just as often. Just last month, a study in the U.S. found that the global warming potential of lab-based meat using purified media is four to 25 times greater than the average for retail beef. And, on the materials side, organisations have been lambasted and, in some cases, actually sued for presenting materials and products as sustainable when they contain high levels of plastics.

Criticism of the Higg Index for placing synthetic materials on a pedestal continues to ring true and consumers are taking notice. Meanwhile, the other alternatives to natural materials are exorbitantly costly to manufacture even at a small scale, a reality that doesn’t look like it will change any time soon.

None of us have a crystal ball or can predict from these few instance what direction the materials industry will take, but we have a volatile global economy still reeling from the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The leather industry will suffer but is capable of weathering that storm and coming out of the other side ready to grow to greater heights. Can we say the same for vegan materials or will we see more stories like Bolt Threads in the headlines to come? My money is on the latter.