Stella McCartney Thinks This Technology Will Save The World

PHOTO BY LISA WASSMANN Stella designed the stunning brown knitted parachute pant and brown knit bodysuit, both made of 100% man-made spider silk, produced in @BoltThreads‘ labs in Emeryville, CA

 

The moment Stella McCartney said, “this is the future… this will save our planet, this approach that Bolt Threads has is the approach we’re going to have to take to everything,” I knew that this went beyond just marketing the rich-brown, Microsilk™ bodysuit and parachute-pant on display. We were on the top floor of her new Madison Avenue store in Manhattan celebrating her partnership with the hi-tech biofabricators who’ve used science and imagination to make spider-silk without spiders. Bolt Threads CEO Dan Widmaier, with some modesty, agreed that “there’s hunger for innovation in this space, to change the status quo, make it more sustainable, and enable new things to happen”.

I’m wearing my Bolt Threads tie, Brave GentleMan outfit, chatting with guests from Best Made and Refinery 29 at the Stella McCartney x Bolt party.

 

 

I’d been following developments in biofabrication for several years, writing articles about it, speaking about it on panels and in guest lectures across North America and Europe, including it in my curriculum at Parsons, attending conferences and taking meetings with scientists working on these innovations. The reason I’ve been so excited about this technology is because it has the potential to change the way we make everything and to resolve some of our most pressing challenges concerning sustainability and ethics in fashion.

It blew me away.” – Stella McCartney

Joshua Katcher, Stella McCartney & Dan Widmaier
When it came to working with the material, McCartney exclaimed, “I couldn’t believe it … I was not expecting the touch and the handle that I experienced immediately. It was silk! It blew me away.” But, while it biologically is silk, no worms were involved… and by involved, I mean killed by the billions. Most people don’t like to think about the fact that silk worms are boiled alive inside of their cocoons in order to make silk (if they allow the moth to emerge, the single-strand of the cocoon is broken, and the silk is rough and less valuable). But, as Stella quipped, “I think and hope that very quickly this is an irrelevant conversation, and that the idea of boiling silkworms is like ‘what? they did what’?”

 

Conversing with Stella McCartney and Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads 

 

 

There is something deeply tragic and ironic about such a small, fragile creature eating and molting, eating and molting, eating a molting – working toward building a beautiful and safe place in which to morph into a final, triumphant form, only to be killed so that we can steal that magic and transform through fashion. While the 5,000 year-long plight of farmed silkworms is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it is significant in many ways.

Silk is perceived to be a sustainable fiber, but recent data from the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report shows that silk is actually the second worst material for the environment from a cradle-to-gate analysis, just behind cow leather. This data is surprising, but it’s also more motivation to replace the ways we’ve been making textiles with something far better that requires no boiling of little beings and has far less ecological impacts.

Bodysuit designed by Stella McCartney using Bolt Threads biofabricated silk

 

 

I imagine a future where no animals have to be bred, confined or killed in order to have leather, fur, silk or feathers – and if Bolt can fabricate spider-silk proteins, they’re clearly not going to be stopping there! Widmaier points out that “there’s five scalable fibers in the world, and what we’re proposing at Bolt is not only a sixth… but effectively an infinite number thereafter. And I think that’s an unimaginably different future, for not just fashion, but all of our consumer society.”

“I think that’s an unimaginably different future, for not just fashion, but all of our consumer society.” – Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads

The potential from a design perspective is also incredibly exciting. “This is super sexy,” says McCartney. “I find the conversation between technology and what we’re doing in fashion is one of the most exciting things… I get less excited about a new silhouette or new color to put down a runway… This is, to me, the sexiest thing people can do right now.” And that message is getting through to big decision makers in the fashion world. Attendees at this celebration included curators at the MoMA, where a dress that Stella and Bolt made together is currently on display through January 28 at the museum’s, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” exhibit. New York Fashion Week founder and director of the FIT Foundation Fern Mallis was also in attendance, as was SVP and Global EIC of Yahoo, Martha Nelson, world-renowned choreographer Jonah Bokaer, Michelle Obama’s stylist Meredith Koop, and Fast Company’s EIC Robert Safian. Designers from the brand Best Made, which was recently acquired by Bolt Threads, were also celebrating there, with collaborative products coming quickly down the biofab pipeline.

Back side of the Stella McCartney x Bolt Threads dress that is currently on display at MoMA.

“This is, to me, the sexiest thing people can do right now.” -Stella McCartney

“We all fantasize about the magnificent things that will come in the future,” says Stella. Something as significant as the industrial revolution is in the works here, and it’s so badly needed. “The fashion industry to me is extraordinarily old-fashioned,” she insists. “History is made to be changed and the fashion industry has got to do so.”

For more information, visit boltthreads.com

Massive Fashion Industry Studies Condemn Animal Materials

by Joshua Katcher

Huge stack of piled sheep and cow skins. Australia, 2017. Copyright Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

 

Two major reports released within the fashion industry over the last 12 months are damning for businesses that profit from animal fibers like leather, silk, cashmere and wool – and it’s also pretty critical of conventional cotton. These reports come at a crucial time for an industry that has had a serious lack of concrete data from which to draw, for which Alden Wicker at Racked made a compelling case earlier this year. “One reason for this ignorance might be that scientists and advocates tend to look down on fashion,” said Wicker.

A massive study called Pulse of the Fashion Industry, which was published by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, a respected global leader in business strategy advising since 1963 – was unleashed in May of 2017 to coincide with the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and delivered some serious wake-up-calls.

Overall apparel consumption will rise by 63%, from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons in 2030—an equivalent of more than 500 billion T-shirts.

– Pulse of the Fashion Industry

The report gave a failing grade of 32 out of 100 to the fashion industry – a weak pulse indeed – using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index as a data set source and a cradle-to-gate analysis of materials, which places the burden of responsibility on the producers, not the consumers. This is a welcome shift from an emphasis on expecting shoppers will buy less, wash on cold, hang dry, repair, recycle and dispose conscientiously – activities that are difficult to measure, let alone enforce.

Among the report’s fierce call-to-actions and startling projections is a conclusion that’s not sitting well with animal agriculture industries.

3 of the 4 worst materials for the environment, per kilogram, are derived from animals, according to the research.

Cow leather takes the prize for most damaging, with silk being a close second. Not surprisingly, conventional cotton comes in third, followed up by wool, just behind in fourth. So what are the remaining 10 materials in the rankings with the smallest impacts? Human-made fibers.

Source: Pulse of the Fashion Industry

 

Materials like PU leather are found to have less than half of the environmental impacts as their animal-derived counterpart, shedding much light on the heated debate regarding the sustainability of vegan leather versus cows’ skins. Likewise, acrylic, polyester, spandex and rayon fibers are significantly less damaging than wool and silk, according to the research. The popular binary of ranking synthetics as the lesser of two main fiber categories (with the other being “natural” fibers) appears to be incorrect, at least from a sustainability standpoint.

Cow skins stacked and salted on wooden pallets. Australia, 2017. Copyright Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Materials like PU leather are found to have less than half of the environmental impacts as their animal-derived counterpart.

Sheep In A Sale Yard. Ballarat, Australia, 2013. Copyright Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

 

The wool industry – an industry that relies upon a perception of sheep hair as a natural, traditional and sustainable fiber, did not take it’s ranking well in the report, and the International Wool Textile Organization released a public criticism regarding what it saw as missing data, the end-life of plastics and fast-fashion. The Pulse report’s authors quickly responded in-depth to the criticism in an interview with Ecotextile News:

“We stand by our belief that the material mix can benefit from new innovative man-made fibres… However, we must keep in mind that scarce soil might have to be used for food growing for a mounting population of up to 8.5 billion people, so it might not be available for cotton growing or sheep farming.”

Ecotextile News

 

Hundreds of stacked sheep skins. Australia, 2017. Copyright Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

 

Animal agriculture has seen large-scale condemnation in multiple arenas over the last decade, like meat production being linked to climate change with a near consensus among global climate leaders such as the United Nations FAO. This information, coupled with growing ethical concerns for the billions of animals killed for their body parts every year and an increasing link between animal products and disease, has been a major driving force in the development of increasingly-funded and valuable solutions from clean meat to biosynthesized spider silk fibers, bio-based nylon, poly, and PU and lab-grown leather.

At Modern Meadow, a small piece of lab-grown leather. Source: modernmeadow.com

 

By implementing positive changes, the report estimates almost $190 billion in annual value for the world economy by 2030. That’s a lot of incentives for innovation.

KERING WEIGHED IN

Another report, released by the luxury fashion conglomerate Kering in 2016, came to similar conclusions. Leather is, by far, Kering’s most damaging source of environmental impacts. Similarly to the Pulse report, synthetics are measured at about half of the impacts of leather. Their report, the Environmental Profit & Loss (EP&L), also singled out cashmere as having the largest impact among their non-leather animal fibers (mohair, wool, cashmere, vicuna, etc).

Source: KERING E P&L

 

“Across Kering we use ten times more wool than cashmere however more than 80% of our impacts from animal fibres are associated with the use of cashmere.” – KERING EP&L

The distinction between skins (leather) and hairs (“animal fiber”) is something to pay attention to, because often there is crossover. Sheep and goats, for example, are both sheared for their hair and eventually killed for leather. If combined, animal materials are the most detrimental category of textiles where the environment is concerned.

We source leather primarily from cattle, sheep and goats. For leather, 93% of the total impacts are driven by the land use and GHG emissions associated with farming the animals. Most of the remaining 7% is associated with energy use and water use by tanneries” – KERING EP&L

While Kering does attempt to address some issues with tanneries, the research indicates that even if the tanneries were removed from the equation, 93% of the impacts happen before the skins arrive at the tanneries. Therefore, we must be vigilant against greenwashing in the form of “vegetable-tanned” leather and “chrome-free” leather. Something like PU (polyurethane) leather outperforms animal skins environmentally by far, and this isn’t even considering the soon-to-be-made plant-based PUs.

WHAT NOW?

Kering should be applauded for taking this step in self-analysis and self-criticism – certainly a risky thing to do. But they are also counting on reaping some of those huge financial benefits of implementing sustainable innovation, so it’s not all altruism.  The authors of the Pulse report should also be lauded for creating invaluable resources and ongoing research with the goal of motivating and empowering the fashion industry.

ACCEPT THE DATA

Data is crucial for being taken seriously, and that can trickle up to create meaningful legislation and drive strategic growth and change from points of leverage. Basically, the takeaway is that anything requiring large amounts of land, especially cattle and even conventional cotton, are going to have significantly larger impacts on the environment than human-made materials.

If we’re going to address the very worst problems first, where companies should be focusing is replacing animal materials with superior human-made materials.

And that doesn’t mean just switching over to conventional rayon – it can mean investing in plant-based, biodegradable rayon. It can mean taking an active role in getting behind the companies that are currently making ground-breaking materials, similar to how Stella McCartney has recently partnered with Bolt Threads. Pushing back against the data to defend business-as-usual will soon not only be a bad PR move, it could be criminal if environmental legislation is introduced.

INCENTIVISE INNOVATION

We need everyone from fashion students and scientists to designers and investors to aspire to create and use emerging materials from the fields of cellular agriculture (growing or brewing protein fibers like leather, silk and wool in the laboratory), recycled materials like Newlife and The New Denim Project, and hi-tech synthetics like bioplastics.

Textiles made from upcycled denim. Source: The New Denim Project

 

In order to do that, there has to be rewards. The recent Biodesign Challenge, the  CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative, The Global Change Award, The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion, the Green Carpet Challenge, the Ecochic Design Awards, New Harvest, IndieBio and a handful of others are a great start. But there needs to be much more resources put into this effort, and guidelines must stay in pace with the latest data, placing emphasis on the biggest problems, like replacing animal materials.

This is exactly what happened with VEGEA Wine Leather – a group of young Italians who figured out how to make leather from the leftovers of wine production; grape skins and pulp. They were awarded €300,000 this year to take their concept from prototype to production by winning the top prize from the Global Change Award.

VEGEA leather made from grape marc. Image Source: vegeacompany.com

 

ACCESS

Finally, one reason why many designers do not use the latest innovations isn’t because they don’t want to… they simply don’t know they exist or how to look for them. And when they find them, getting access to a few yards for sample-making is next-to impossible. Textile trade shows, suppliers, universities, fashion media and sourcing experts must do a better job of identifying, organizing and creating access to the best innovative materials. The Biofabricate conference does a great job of this, but in New York City there is still nowhere a designer to go to see and source the latest innovations in sustainable materials, from something a simple as recycled polyester, recycled cotton to Piñatex, Mycoworks and Apple Leather.

Mycoworks mycellium-based (fungus) leather. Source: mycoworks.com

If we want change to happen quickly, we’ve got to take fashion seriously, take the data seriously, and make it rewarding, fun and easy for designers to get their hands on the good stuff.

A Crew of Elite NFL Athletes are Betting on a Vegan Diet

by Joshua Katcher

More pro-athletes are turning to a plant-based diet to get the most out of their workouts, training, and recoveries. But what might seem like a new trend in the NFL is nothing new to strength sports in general. Back in June 2017, for example, the totally vegan PlantBuilt team competed at the Naturally Fit Games in Austin, Texas in CrossFit, powerlifting, bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting, and kettlebell – taking home 32 medals. Teammate Sara Lee set an American and world record in kettlebell. Icelandic vegan powerlifter Hulda B. Waage set a record back squat in 2016, and America’s strongest weightlifter, Kendrick Farris “is 100% vegan”, according to both Men’s Fittness and his own testimony from a fun interview during the Rio Olympics where he said, “I’m not missing out on anything…I weigh over two hundred pounds.”

The rewards of a plant-based diet are also becoming popular among elite NFL athletes. Ravens wide receiver Griff Whalen, has followed a strictly vegan diet for almost four years.

 

Follow Griff on Instagram @griffwhalen

When I tried a whole food vegan diet I felt a major impact in less than 2 weeks. That was enough motivation for me to stick with it. – Griff Whalen

Whalen even eschews leather for ethical reasons. He spoke exclusively with thediscerningbrute.com about why he thinks this trend is happening in his sport:

I think the league is so competitive that many of the guys are looking for any edge they can find, including nutrition. Better nutrition allows us to recover faster, train harder and longer, and ultimately become better athletes. There are many different opinions on the best dietary methods for athletes, and tons of false or partial truths out there, so it can be very difficult to wade through all that to find out what the real facts and research support… Today things are slowly changing with the resources we have online, and also in books and documentaries. I think the real evidence is starting to get some exposure and word is spreading.

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

 

Griff is not alone in his experience with the physical rewards of a vegan diet. The Detroit Lion’s running back, Theo Riddick, was interviewed in The Detroit News regarding his switch after suffering a wrist injury.

“I turned vegan over the summer. I’ve noticed a difference just with my energy level. I’m not a junk-food type of eater. I’m like a smoothie guy; I do a lot of fruit and throw my kale and all my protein in there and that’s how I get everything.” – The Detroit News

Arie Kouandjio went vegan with the encouragement of teammate Trent Williams. Photo: Redskins.com

 

Two Washington Redskins players have also gone vegan; offensive tackle Trent Williams and guard Arie Kouandjio. In an interview with NFL.com Williams said:

“I just wanted to find ways to improve at healthy living, and hopefully it will help me with longevity in my career.” – NFL.com

Trent Williams interviewed on NFL.com

 

Williams is encouraging others to try it, too, like New Orleans Saints running back, Adrian Peterson, with whom he co-owns O Athletic Gym in Houston. Peterson admitted to being tempted to make the switch himself. He was interviewed by NOLA.com as saying that his diet is about 85% plant-based now. Time will tell if he joins the ranks and gets from aspiring-vegan to 100%. He said:

“I’ve always been kind of leery about processed food, so I’ve always kind of (avoided) it. But once I watched the documentary [What The Health] after I heard about it from Trent, I watched it, and it just kind of puts it in your face. I was just like, it’s time to really kind of change some things up.” – NOLA.com

Filmmaker Santino Panico, whose forthcoming film “From The Ground Up” – which takes a in-depth look at vegetarian and vegan athletes across a spectrum of sports, has spent time with many of these elite athletes, and has gotten to know how they think. I asked Panico for his opinion on this, and he said a trend like this “several years ago would have seemed impossible”.

“Inflammation is an athlete’s worst enemy, especially if that athlete is an NFL player. So these players are seeing research showing that plant-based diets reduce inflammation while diets heavy in meat and animal products cause inflammation.”

Panico also explained that “the culture of the NFL tends to lean towards machismo and food is tied to that.”

“Players believe they need meat to be strong and masculine,” he said. “But now even that is being proven wrong”.

This all begs the question, if a plant-based diet is good enough for athletes in some of the most physically demanding sports, isn’t it sufficient for average people?

Discerning Selects – July 29, 2017

Fanmail organic cotton Rose Pink Sweatshirt – $148
Ethletic organic canvas True Blood Hi-Cut Sneaker – $82
FUZZFIELDS colorgrown Striped Baseball Shirt Jacket – $295
Root Science Restore Serum – $50-120
Schmidt’s Charcoal Magnesium Deodorant – $9.99
Stella McCartney Blue/Red Alternappa Chain Sneaker – $510
CRETE organic linen shirt – $85
Thought Boris bamboo/organic cotton boxer briefs – $14
Rapanui Men’s shark bamboo socks – $6
Finesterre 100% recycled Autan waterproof jacket – $177

BOLT THREADS LAUNCHES BIOFAB SPIDER-SILK TIES

My spider-senses are tingling! I’ve been following companies like Bolt Threads and writing about them for quite some time, but this past week, Bolt Threads made history when they launched the first commercially available biofabricated spider-silk product at SXSW 2017 – and it’s a classic, woven men’s tie. Make no mistake, this is a tie that will change the world.


With developments like these, we are able to see the inevitable end of animals used inefficiently and brutally in creating fibers. We can also see the end to animals being killed for other things like flesh and milk. Brewing things like silk in the laboratory isn’t just exciting science, it’s the next industrial revolution that could curb the staggering ecological impacts of raising livestock.

BREWING THINGS LIKE SILK IN THE LABORATORY ISN’T JUST EXCITING SCIENCE, IT’S THE NEXT INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Bolt Threads shot a sleek photo campaign and cinematic trailer to launch this revolutionary product, and I couldn’t be more excited, since I’ve always had a fondness for the charm of a woven tie. I even entered the lottery to be able to purchase one of the 50 ties that were made!