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

Backstage at Vaute Couture

by D. R. Hildebrand

Last year, in early March, I took a short subway ride from the annual New York City Vegetarian Food Festival in Chelsea to the opening of a boutique clothing store in Williamsburg.  I had read about the designer and her innovative water-proof, wind-proof, sub-freezing-suitable outwear and I wanted to meet her and see the clothes in person.  Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, newly relocated from Chicago, was attracting evermore attention for her one hundred percent cruelty-free label, Vaute Couture—and she hadn’t yet even opened her doors.

But this was just the beginning.  Two months later, in a national competition hosted by Macy’s, Ms. Hilgart was chosen from an applicant pool of 1,800 as one of fourteen “emerging designers” with “promising mainstream success.”  The reward was a week-long workshop aimed at teaching these designers the business aspects of the industry and how to penetrate the greater marketplace.  Hilgart excelled, and less than a year later Vaute entered New York Fashion Week.

When I arrived for the fitting two days before the show I was already elated, not just as a vegan and a model but as a friend, to be a part of this experience.  There had never been a sustainable, vegan label showcasing solo at New York Fashion Week, and Hilgart was poised to correct that.  As enthusiastic as I was for this inimitable occasion, it wasn’t until I put on my “look,” right there in the factory where it was made and I saw the decency, the ethic of the environment all juxtaposed to comparable factories overseas that I realized the extent to Vaute’s uniqueness.  Much more than just the apparel itself would set Hilgart’s brand apart from the tiresome trends and the status quo of fashion’s most meaningful week.

Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart Vaute Couture

Photo by Gregory Vaughan

Everything, it seemed, was different.  From the subtle to the overt, Hilgart created her own rules: instead of opting for the artificial, militaristic look of sameness and severity, she chose models who were diverse and approachable and styled each one uniquely.  Instead of confining the show to a runway, which would permit the audience just a few elusive seconds to view a single outfit, she integrated a showroom design that encouraged guests to photograph, to engage, and to linger.  Instead of creating an ambiance of darkness and mystery she opened the atmosphere with music that was inviting and lighting that was serene.  And instead of having her models walk out with every imaginable being from snakes to peacocks to baby tigers in some false display of survival or allure or power, Hilgart presented dogs—in the hopes of finding them homes.

Backstage, the mood was professional yet light.  There was a clear sense that everyone involved was eager not only to create something beautiful, but something lasting.  It was a fashion show, yes; it was art and creativity and newness, of course; but it was a statement to boot, a very proud and unequivocal one with a conscience at its core.  Every element of the exhibition reflected this.  Makeup was done by DeVita.  Hair was styled by Salon Champu.  Women’s shoes were made by Love is Mighty, men’s shoes by Brave Gentleman.  Refreshments came from Vegan Treats and Vita Coco.  Sponsors included the Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary, PETA, and PCRM.  From the casting director to the DJ to the volunteers and many of the models, nearly every piece of the show was fair-labor, sustainable, principled, and vegan.  As Hilgart commented afterward, “I’m not here to create fashion.  I’m here to create ethical options within fashion.”

David Raphael Hildebrand Vaute Couture

Photo by Gregory Vaughan

My own outfit exemplified this.  I wore a warm, ivory-colored organic cotton Sherpa turtle neck, a camel organic velvet coat with a recycled thinsulate quilted liner and brown tagua nut buttons, and gray waxed canvas pants, most of which was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard of.  The innovation behind each item not only made the rest of Fashion Week look lame but caught the attention of leading media as well.  By the following day CNN reported it on its homepage and soon after ran an almost four-minute televised segment on Hilgart and the unnecessary use of animals in fashion.

Notably, after commenting on the elegance and sophistication of the clothes, the news anchor concluded the story with an observation that couldn’t have better summarized the entire affair.  “Well,” she said to the correspondent, reflecting on what she had learned, “you made me think.”  As thought is the origin of compassion, that is the point.  Nothing will change without thought when it is thoughtlessness that defines the current state of fashion: exploit, waste, pollute, kill—over and over and over with a few bland modifications in color and cut so the world will clap and call it new, and ignorance will persist unchallenged.

Hilgart has chosen to think.  She has chosen to challenge.  Originality has never looked so good.

Note: For all news on Vaute Couture and for exclusive backstage footage of the show, like their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/VauteCouture