Vegan alternatives to leather could save more than animals. Scientists behind the new fashion staple – the “mushroom leather” handbag – believe that mycelium, a material made from fungi that can be engineered to look like calfskin or sheep skin, could help save the planet.
Speaking to The Guardian ahead of a talk at the Business of Fashion Voices conference in Oxfordshire, Dr Matt Scullin, CEO of biomaterials company MycoWorks, predicted that mushroom leather could be a game-changer in sustainability, ” opening up a future of design that begins with the material, not with the object ”.
Thin Mycelium, a patented material that can be grown from mushrooms in trays within weeks, mimics the look and feel of leather while outperforming it in strength and durability. The material recently made its haute couture debut as an exclusive Hermès handbag.
“It can give the same emotional response as animal leather. It has this feeling of scarcity, ”says Scullin. On a planet with finite natural resources, Scullin believes that the technology and mindset of custom-grown, carbon-neutral mushroom leather could be “revolutionary” – and have implications for innovation in manufacturing at- beyond fashion.
Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Lives: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures, will be alongside Scullin at the conference. Sheldrake, a biologist, joins a line that also includes designers Vivienne Westwood and Tommy Hilfiger, “because I’m interested in talking to people in the creative industries about how the possibilities of fungi can help open minds to new ones. ideas ”. “I am delighted to support the fashion world in their efforts to become more sustainable. Fungi have so much potential to overcome some of the problems we face, ”he said.
Sheldrake sees fashion’s engagement with mushroom leather as a platform for “mushrooms as an analogy for thinking creatively and sustainably”. Mushroom leather can be grown in pieces to the specific shape and size required by a designer, eliminating the need to cut up room waste. A report from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index found that bovine leather caused more damage to the environment than any other fabric, including synthetic leather made from plastics, due to deforestation and associated gas emissions. ‘livestock farming.
With leather goods representing 15% of the luxury market in 2019, according to the Statista Consumer Market Outlook Luxury Leather Goods Report, sustainable alternatives could have a significant impact on the fashion footprint.
Bolt Threads – another California-based biomaterials company working with mushroom leather, which collaborated with Stella McCartney on a handbag shown at Paris Fashion Week and is developing products with Adidas – is another prominent player in the market. mushroom leather, alongside MycoWorks.
Mushrooms might not have a glamorous image, but mushroom-based leather has become an exclusive material, favored by the kind of haute couture design studios that work with double-sided cashmere and silk organza. But to have a substantial impact on durability, the material would have to be accessible at a lower price. “We work with luxury fashion first because they are ahead of the trend in sustainability,” says Scullin. “These are brands that can think big and think long term.”
But the partnership with consumer brands is “on the radar” of MycoWorks, which is about to open a second factory in the United States. Scalability that ensured the material could be used in fashion or in car upholstery is a definite possibility – the material can be grown in trays within weeks – but bioscientists warn that unresponsive design could. undermine some of the environmentally friendly properties of the mycelium. If a handbag or jacket is produced with material, trims, adhesives and fasteners that are not biodegradable, it would negate much of the good for which the material was developed. “We can bring biodegradability to brands, but there’s a big problem in the industry with thinking sustainably about a finished product,” says Scullin.
Sheldrake believes that one of the main lessons learned from studying fungi is to “reform the way we think about waste.” If fungi didn’t do what they do, our planet would be stacked meters high in the bodies of animals and plants ”. He thinks that the impact of mushroom leather on our culture could go far beyond a new It bag. “We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line through which we buy something, use it and throw it away. Mushrooms can inform fashion thinking on many levels. It’s about material innovation, but it’s also about the culture of creating endless new things, and what we can learn by thinking in terms of nature and cycles instead. “