EcoSPHERE: Why Stella McCartney & Mushrooms are the Future of Fashion

Words by
Nicole Panteloucos

6th February 2023

While many brands claim to be environmentally conscious, few invest in technology that truly makes fashion more sustainable. Step forward Stella McCartney and the Collab SOS fund, who’ve just pledged £165 million to invest in start-ups that seek to reinvent fashion as we know it.

Established in 2022, the collaborative venture between McCartney and Collab SOS is dedicated to providing "rapid, catalytic capital to entrepreneurs working on climate solutions." The fund invests primarily  in Series A and Series B companies that are working to fuel a more sustainable economy across materials, energy, and supply chains. 

As the sustainability advisor to LVMH's chief executive officer Bernard Arnault, McCartney is far from just all talk. The designer has long been a champion for the planet. In 2017, McCartney took home the British Fashion Council's first-ever Special Recognition Award for Sustainability. To continue making an impact,  however, McCartney can't go at it alone.

Here are four cutting-edge companies from Stella's fund that you need to know about right now.

Bolt Threads and mushroom leather
Mylo mushroom leather
Stella McCartney, Adidas and Lululemon create products using Mylo's mushroom leather

Who said mushrooms are just for the kitchen? Thanks to Bolt Threads, a biotechnology company who’ve developed the first scalable leather alternative to be used in consumer products, mushrooms are about to play a large part in your wardrobe. Based out of Emeryville, California and founded in 2009, Bolt Threads’ big innovation is Mylo — a sustainable leather alternative made from the root-like structures of fungi. The fabric delivers the same luxurious feel of leather without the harmful effects of cattle harvesting, making Mylo a win for both you and the environment.

Stella McCartney Mylo
The Frayme bag by Stella McCartney is crafted using Mylo sustainable leather

To date, Bolt Threads has raised a total of $472.1M in funding and has garnered attention from major fashion players like Adidas — who created a concept version of their classic Stan Smith shoe using Mylo. Last year, Stella McCartney partnered with Bolt Threads to release the world’s first luxury handbag made from mycelium leather. When speaking on her relationship with the brand McCartney stated, "launching a luxury handbag made from Mylo... is a landmark moment not only for us, but the world. What you see on the runway today is the conscious fashion industry of tomorrow.”

Econyl and Ocean-powered sustainability
Econyl is regenerated nylon fabric made from discarded ocean waste

Nylon made a major comeback last year and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down in 2023. But how sustainable is nylon? Turns out, not very. The fabric is manufactured using petrochemicals which create harmful greenhouse gasses. Thankfully, sustainable textile company Aquafil has the solution. In 2011, after several years of research and development, the company launched Econyl — a regenerated nylon fabric created entirely from ocean and landfill waste including discarded fishing nets and other plastic waste. 


Prada Re-Nylon
Prada's Re-Nylon project includes a collection of mini bags made using Econyl

Econyl’s fabric has already been used by a number of brands across the fashion industry. Remember the mini nylon Prada bags that took over the internet last year? They were made using Econyl. Several years ago, Prada vowed to use sustainable nylon in all of its collections by 2021. Staying true to their word, Prada’s recent Re-Nylon project included a revamp of its 2005 classic mini nylon bag. 

Stella McCartney and Gucci
Left: Stella McCartney's summer 2019 collection features a whimsical tracksuit made with Econyl Right: Gucci's sustainably sourced Off the Grid collection uses Econyl

Stella McCartney featured a tracksuit made from the fabric in her summer 2019 runway show and Gucci’s Off the Grid collection of sustainably sourced travel accessories (including backpacks, luggage and sneakers) also makes use of the Econyl. If you’re looking for ways to incorporate environmentally conscious pieces to your wardrobe, Prada's Re-Nylon and Gucci's Off The Grid collections are currently available for purchase. 

KeelLabs and the power of seaweed
Kelsun is a seaweed-based yarn alternative developed by KeelLabs

Have you ever taken a dip in the ocean only to be spooked when you step on a piece of seaweed? Well, the answer to sustainable fashion might just be right under your feet! Based in North Carolina and founded in 2017 by Aleksandra Gosiewski and Tessa Callaghan, KeelLabs makes bio-based yarn from seaweed. The product (called Kelsun) has a significantly lower environmental footprint than conventional fibres like cotton and polyester.

Having completed its series A funding, KeelLabs has raised a total of of $17.6M and hopes to use its funds to further scale the production of its yarn. KeelLabs hasn't announced any major brand collaborations just yet, but this groundbreaking company is definitely one to watch. 

Protein Evolution and circular fashion
Protein Evolution
Protein Evolution uses artificial intelligence to breakdown plastic waste into reusable fibres

Feel like you’re running around in circles and not getting anywhere? We’ve all been there. But not all circles are bad — especially if we’re talking about circular fashion — which is exactly what Protein Evolution hopes to promote with its new cutting-edge tech. Based in New Haven, Connecticut and Founded in 2021 by Dr. Jonathan Rothberg and Connor Lynn, the biotechnology company seeks to eliminate harmful waste by making plastics infinitely recyclable.

Stella McCartney
Stella McCartney is partnering with Protein Evolution to recycle unused fabrics

How does this work? Protein Evolution uses artificial intelligence to engineer enzymes that break down plastic waste to create new materials. Eco-conscious designers like Stella McCartney are making use of the brand's technology to recycle unused fabrics for future runway shows. "We hope to pioneer a new type of polyester from old materials," said McCartney when speaking on her collaboration with Protein Evolution. "Establishing climate goals is one thing, taking meaningful steps toward a more sustainable future is what truly matters.”