In order to get sustainable products out the door we have to create the kind consumers actually want to buy, Dan Widmaier, CEO of advanced materials technology company, Bolt Threads, says on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.
Speaking to Rachel Arthur, he says it’s all very well having a vision for the future driven by deep technology – in his case, best known as spider silk – but if the consumer doesn’t like it, it’s irrelevant.
“Ultimately it is up to the consumer,” he says. “[We’re] seeing the speed at which consumer taste is changing – 2017 was a transformative year for sustainability. It is getting big really fast and it’s becoming one of the issues at the forefront of the industry because it touches everyone… No one wants to work in an industry where you say, hey, you know what I’m going to do today, I’m going to mess up the world for the future. Everyone wants to make it better. So it’s not surprising. We all want to feel like we are working towards some greater good in the world.”
His team is doing that by mimicking spider silk found in nature and reproducing it in a lab. This is about harvesting proteins to ultimately create sustainable, high-performance fibers and fabrics that will eventually find their way into our clothes. He launched his first product – a tie – at SXSW last year. And has since partnered with fashion designer Stella McCartney in order to drive that real consumer drive.
You can’t buy any of the McCartney products yet, but he promises there are big things coming up later this year.
His work is oft referred to as the beginning of a new material revolution – one that looks at bioengineering, thus focused on what comes from nature, rather than from chemistry to produce polymers and plastics, as was the drive throughout the 20th Century.
In an age driven increasingly by a focus on sustainability, he says it’s about time there was a greater push around new materials. His team has recently closed $123 million Series D investment round, so the next step is about getting to scale.
Listen to the podcast to hear how Widmaier thinks his team can get there, the kind of challenges that stand in his way between now and then, and just why sustainability is such a big agenda for fashion.
The big thing, he says, is about balancing impatience with reality. “Big innovations around fundamental technologies that are at the cutting edge are more fragile in the world than people realise. So we try to balance the desire to go as fast as humanly possible with the desire to see it be a success in the long term, because we think the good transcends beyond just Bolt. We can be an example that investing in deep science and deep technology can really create lasting good and commercial value in the world.”