By Emily Cai
May 9, 2022
There are 95 next-gen materials companies receiving funding from over 187 unique investors and working with at least 95% of leading fashion brands. Connecting this web of parties in the new and fast-growing industry of next-gen materials is what prompted the launch of the nonprofit Material Innovation Initiative (MII) in 2019. Today, the MII is the leading trusted body in the next-gen material industry.
Introducing the MII
Thomasine Dolan — Fashion Design Specialist at MII — describes the organization as a team of experts whose specialties range from design, materials science, law, and entrepreneurship. This world-class team offers its expertise to start-ups, investors, designers, and manufacturers as they progress with material development and strategic growth. And as the next-gen materials industry has grown, so has the MII. The organization now counts 58 advisors, directors, and experts on its team, based worldwide, from the UK to Brazil.
Some of the services the MII team provides to its 140 companies include matching investors and brands with material start-ups to foster co-development, offering legal support for contract negotiation, and managing expectations between partnerships. The MII is able to provide objective material science and design feedback to help innovators improve the performance and design of materials. Beyond material development support, the MII can conduct life cycle assessments to help start-ups track their sustainability goals and discover new white-space opportunities for next-gen materials technology while maintaining the highest degree of confidentiality. Another bonus of the MII is that all of its resources are free to use!
The founders of MII came from the plant-based food industry, where they helped spur the growth that made plant-based meat alternatives commonplace on grocery store shelves. They pivoted to the apparel and consumer goods industry when they realized that their expertise could be applied to the rising need for material alternatives to address the growing sustainability issues in the fashion industry. While the MII connected with the first material companies by culling through industry trade journals to stay in the loop on next-generation material technologies, start-ups are now reaching out to the organization to become part of their global network.
Bucha Bio & the MII
The MII has a reputation for building professional, personalized, unbiased, and highly collaborative relationships. When Zimri T. Hinshaw, BUCHA BIO’s Founder & CEO, describes meeting Thomasine for the first time, he explains how he took the subway to her New York apartment every week to have her personally review early material samples.
“I’m a designer and I know that showing people your work… [feels] really vulnerable,” Thomasine says, “I’m thankful that Bucha felt like I was a safe place that they could show me these things that were far from being ready.” She gave honest feedback, which Zimri and his team could quickly take action on. During the time when COVID-19 was at its peak, and it was difficult to arrange meetings with brands and investors for feedback, having the guidance of a seasoned designer like Thomasine was invaluable.
Zimri recalls subjecting BUCHA BIO’s early samples to what he later coined as the “Thomasine Test,” where Thomasine would take the sample and try to break it over her knee as hard and as fast as possible, observing how the impact affected the material. BUCHA BIO was able to take Thomasine’s feedback from these sessions and improve the material’s hand feel, surface design, and performance attributes to industry standards within six months. The constant cycle of feedback and iteration with Thomasine allowed BUCHA BIO to quickly develop our first biomaterial SHORAI™. The unique material now passes industry performance standards, including those for tensile strength and flexibility. Of course, SHORAI™ also passes the “Thomasine Test.”
Connecting the Future of Next-Generation Materials
Entering a budding new industry can be daunting, but the MII reduces the barrier of entry for everyone by connecting key players, setting expectations between collaborators, and offering expertise at every stage of development. Zimri describes the MII’s work as “soft power” — the organization works behind the scenes, lending a helping hand in an unseen but very tangible way. “They’re the glue between innovators and brands,” he explains, “They really are that middle entity that is facilitating this change in a more meaningful way.”
To further connect the growing ecosystem of next-generation material companies, MII will be hosting the Material Innovation Conference virtually from May 18–19, 2022. Industry-leading fashion brands, investors, nonprofits, and material companies, including BUCHA BIO, will discuss and connect on the current state of the industry and the paths forward.
Read more about MII and the state of the next-generation materials industry, including a feature of Bucha Bio in their 2021 State of the Industry Report.
Emily Cai is a contributing fashion sustainability writer at Bucha Bio and a materials designer at Reebok