The fairy tale without a happy ending of Mylo the Alternative

On 30 June 2023, Bolt Threads put Mylo, the mycelium-derived material championed by Stella McCartney that was supposed to supplant leather, on standby. But no. And the reason for its failure is straightforward


We tell you the tale of Mylo the Alternative. Born in 2018 with enormous expectations, Mylo seemed destined to replace the leather and revolutionise the fashion world. But despite the support of big companies such as Stella McCartney, Kering, Adidas, Lululemon, Ganni and Mercedes, after just five years of life, Mylo failed to become ‘big’. The chrysalis did not become a butterfly. Mylo was unable to take flight – end of the fairy tale.

A fairy tale without a happy ending

Mylo was a material using mainly (but not exclusively) mycelium, a derivative of mushroom roots. It was presented as a viable alternative to leather. Mylo was a creature of the Californian start-up Bolt Threads. The Mylo fairytale came to an abrupt end on 30 June 2023 when Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads, announced in Vogue Business that its production had stopped. There are several reasons for this. Widmaier claims that, due to inflation, the companies that financed Mylo stopped investing, preferring to put their capital into artificial intelligence companies.

A marked road

Put more simply, Mylo found on its way the challenges that all start-ups face. Having overcome the fragility of the initial period, the most significant difficulties come when the market begins to demand the product, and it is necessary to organise production on an industrial scale. This involves investment, cost and final price control, and much more. In short, the fairy tale is one thing; the real market is another. ‘Scale-up is the most expensive and most difficult part, and there are no shortcuts,‘ confirms Widmaier. Mylo, whose annual production had reached one million square feet, did not make it despite the support of its major customers. In October 2020, a consortium of Stella McCartney, Kering, Adidas, and Lululemon invested a seven-figure sum in Bolt Threads to help the start-up develop Mylo and produce it on a larger scale. No luck.

The question

But why, in a growing wave of luxury companies vertically strengthening their supply chain (by acquiring or supporting raw material suppliers), did Stella McCartney not save Mylo? In February 2023, Stella ‘betrayed’ Mylo with its direct competitor Mirum, made by Natural Fiber Welding. Dry retort: The brand had complained about Mylo’s design limitations. However, Widmaier assured that it was not for this reason, or because competitors had arrived on the market, that he put Mylo on hold.

The moral of the tale

What is the moral of this fairy tale without a happy ending? Elyse Winer, partner at investment firm Material Impact and CMO of materials innovation company Gen Phoenix, explains. ‘Performance, sustainability, and price parity (with respect to leather ed),’ she tells Glossy, ‘are really significant parameters that a company has to achieve. Start-ups often find it difficult to meet these requirements and therefore can only develop lab-scale or limited production‘. Luke Haverhals, the founder of Natural Fiber Welding, says that an alternative material to leather that does not offer brands higher margins is ‘difficult to sell’.

The hype is greater than the impact

In Business of Fashion, Kenneth P. Pucker, professor at Tufts Fletcher School (and former Timberland’s chief operating officer from 2000 to 2007) writes: “If one were to judge the progress of sustainable fashion by counting press releases about new bio-based materials, the industry would pass with flying colours. But then, pulling the sums, one realises that ‘the hype is greater than the impact‘. When, then, investments change direction and go elsewhere, when the former start-up fails to achieve industrial-scale production, you end up like Mylo. (mv)