Bolt Threads want to hack fashion textiles using biotech, specifically spider silk. Read more on how they plan to scale from Petrie dish to production.

Sci – Fashion

The fashion industry requires an immense amount of innovation to move forward to a sustainable future. Cue, San Fran based Biotech company Bolt threads, founded 9 years ago and have since then attracted 230 million in funding from Silicon Valley VC firms Formation 8, Founders Fund (Peter Thiel’s firm) and Innovation Endeavors (founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt).

Where other industries have charged ahead with renewables, solar and electric cars. The textile industry hasn’t had any breakthroughs in textiles in decades.

Bolt threads’ Dan Widmaier, David Breslauer and Ethan Mirsky are growing spider silk from yeast to create lab-made versions of proteins in nature, such as the dragline silk of a giant spider known technically as argiope bruehnicci. The lab uses a data system to track exactly what’s going on in the thousands of strains of self-replicating yeast which “eats sugar, which costs about 10 cents a pound.”

To date innovations in textiles have largely been developed for military and medical applications. Whereas Bolt Threads is taking aim at the fashion textile market, to develop a material to make better clothing.
Innovation is something the roughly $2.5 trillion global fashion industry sorely needs. The fashion industry is resource intensive, with the majority of the environmental impact coming from the raw material stages.
For example, luxury group Kering estimates that 72% of their environmental footprint comes from the raw material stage. Kering developed an EP&L (Environmental Profit and Loss) to help quantify their environmental impact and galvanize the organisation’s commitment to sustainability. Therefore one of their biggest initiatives is to create 100% traceability of key raw materials and replace conventional materials with more sustainable options by 2025.

We currently have a crippling dependence on low-cost synthetic fibres like polyester, a petrochemical byproduct which releases microfibres into our oceans, and cotton which requires enormous amounts of land, water and chemicals, for example, enough cotton for 1 t-shirt requires 2700 litres of water. Spider silk, by contrast, is precisely bioengineered to be sustainable and sidestep our traditional agricultural and mining dependence for raw materials.

Scale or sink?

Last year, Bolt Threads debuted its first product, a spider silk necktie with a retail price of $314, and it followed up with a hat, made of a blend of spider silk and Rambouillet wool, priced at $198; it produced and sold just 50 ties and 100 hats. Bolt Threads announced an early partnership with outdoor apparel maker Patagonia in 2016, which gave it credibility in the market, but nothing has come of that venture to date. Patagonia needs thousands of units to launch a new product, Sue Levin, the company’s chief commercial officer notes, a scale that’s still in the future for Bolt Threads.

Today, Bolt Threads’ silk costs more than $100 per kilo, making it pricier than high-quality natural silk from silkworms, which goes for between $60 and $100 per kilo. But the company believes it can get the cost down to a comparable level at commercial scale—and that eventually, it can push it below $40 per kilo.

‘To become a real business, Bolt Threads will need to sell more than a few hundred hats or ties. “For us,” he says, “the scale-up is probably harder than the science.”’

This could change everything!

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