Fungal Fashion: Could Mushroom Skin Create a Sustainable Future?


Let the fun begin

Mushroom-inspired fashion grows as quickly as fungi in the wild. Underneath attractive buttons that harbor ants and fairies are mycelium, a type of fungus called mycelium. Aptly described as nature’s internet (or “wooden wide web”), if you will, this hidden network supports all kinds of fungi that can create everything from plastics and packaging materials to plant-based meat and human flesh. Now, an infinitely renewable root-like system has entered our closets as biomaterials for clothes, shoes, and bags slung over our shoulders. For every step we take, there is mycelium that stretches about 300 miles beneath our feet.

Early adopters

Sculptor Philip Ross had been working with mycelium on art projects for ten years before co-founding MycoWorks with Sophia Wang in 2013. After years of cultivating mushrooms in a laboratory in Emeryville, California, in the United States, Reishi, a luxurious biomaterial, was born. Better than leather in strength and consistent in strength and appearance. Its commercial viability represents a huge leap in fashion, with luxury brands such as Stella McCartney and Hermès taking to Mycelium’s buttery-smooth skin.

In the year In March 2021, Hermès and MycoWorks unveiled a sample of the French maison Victoria’s travel bag in Sylvania, exclusively in amber-colored mycelium leather. Designer Stella McCartney has been working closely with California-based fabric manufacturer Bolt Threads (where she was first introduced to spider silk and biofabrication’s mind-bending potential) to scale its most promising creation, Mylo, which grows from mycelium. Vegan herself, McCartney continues to push her anti-animal stance by forming alliances with Kering, Adidas and Lululemon to invest in Milo’s development.

Earthly touch

With a texture similar to suede but with a cork-like texture that can elicit the same emotional response as animal skin, experts have praised it. The final material provides warmth and sponginess in composite options, as the mycelium collects as a foam layer and mimics the microstructure of collagen. Some manufacturers cook the vegan option to replicate the unique grain of the animal counterpart. The added benefit of being a moisture wicking thermal insulation makes it ideal for creating lightweight, light and waterproof garments or accessories.

Rooted in green

A new crop of manufacturers is using mycelium to create leather-like materials off the cow, with less environmental impact. And since fungi are biomass-fed decomposers, mycelial leather production is powered by carbon from the atmosphere. Unlike many synthetic leathers, those made from mycelium do not contain petroleum-based materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane.

Moreover, the carbon footprint of mycelium is very small, especially compared to resource-increasing cowries, which take years to grow. Like Bolt Trades’ most successful invention, Milo, it can be grown on wood in two weeks without using the amount and amount of water it takes to raise livestock.

Food for thought

According to a report by the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, cowhide is more harmful to the environment than other fabrics, including rubber-based synthetic leather, due to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal husbandry. However, for Mycelium to have a significant impact on sustainability, double-faced cashmere and silk organza must be accessible at a low cost to convince the high fashion design studios that constantly work on them.

But here’s the twist: fashion giants have been promoting vegan leather as more environmentally friendly, even though plastic polymers have been used to produce the wrinkled texture that gives the effect of real leather.

“The devil is in the details,” warn experts who encourage consumers to make sure a brand has a transparent supply chain if they want to buy any kind of leather.

“Choose vegetable leather and be aware of the harmful effects of plastic-based materials,” they urge.

Check out these mushroom-based products in the market:

Frame Milo

Stella McCartney, with the expertise of Bolt Threads, launched the first luxury bag made from Mylo. After going through 5,000 iterations, the LVMH-owned brand perfected the fungus-inspired bag and showed it on its summer 2022 runway show. Only 100 of each individually numbered piece will be available, but the iconic designer may add the arm candy to the core collection starting in 2023. In keeping with the fashion brand’s ethos to reduce environmental impact, Milo is dyed with Blussing-certified dyes to ensure customer safety.
Available exclusively through stelamccartney.com. £1,995

Boletus by Nick Fouquet

Reshi made his commercial debut with Dapper Bucket Hat. Named Boletus, it is the result of a partnership between MycoWorks and renowned hat maker Nick Fouquet, whose esteemed clients include Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, singer Madonna and Oscar winner Nicolas Cage. Two more toppers – the Coprinus straw hat in pink and the Morchella in baby suede – also use resin as decoration. In case you didn’t know, these unisex designs are named after a mushroom.
See more at nickfouquet.com. The price of the ticket is 810 USD.

Double barrel bag

Lululemon’s first foray into funky fashion comes in the form of a high-top gym or overnight bag, made from 100% recycled nylon with woven handles and crocheted handles with funky-friendly leather accents. Wear it as a crossbody when you’re ditching the long shoulder strap or brazenly dragging it from the treadmill to the office. The athletic brand has launched a portable yoga and meditation mat for the discerning on-the-go.
Shop at shop.lululemon.com. bag for $328; Yoga mat, $238.

This article first appeared in Edge Malaysia on September 26, 2022.





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