As vegan leathers garner an increasingly bad rap, fashion houses including Stella McCartney and Hermès hop on the mycelium bandwagon.

By Juno Kelly.

As environmental responsibility has segued into the mainstream, fashion brands–particularly high-end labels–have been working to make their practices more sustainable and animal-friendly. The solution to luxury fashion’s reliance on animal-derived leather and fur originally appeared to be vegan leathers and faux fur. That is until, however, closer inspection revealed plastic materials were almost as (if not more) detrimental to the environment than animal-derived materials.

Enter mushroom leather, the seemingly ideal answer to plastic leather’s pitfalls. Fungi-derived leathers products are, contrary to the image that comes to mind, not a bag made of the rubbery skin of porcini mushrooms, but of mycelium, the root system of the filaments in fungus, that naturally grow underneath the forest floor.

Mycelium can be grown in a lab in a mere few days to imitate the texture, appearance, and durability of traditional leather. As it stands, there are multiple companies working to produce the leather alternative, including Bolt Thread, which was featured in Mission‘s second issue and works to invent new, eco-friendly materials from nature, and California-based start up MycoWorks, which specializes solely in mycelium. Perhaps the most well-backed textile company in the mycelium market is Ecovative. The New York-based company just garnered $60 Million in funding from Global Investors, bringing their total to $100 million.

British fashion house Stella McCartney, a forerunner of the sustainable fashion movement, began experimenting with mushroom leathers in 2017. Last month, the brand produced prototypes of garments made from vegan, lab-grown leather, trademarked as Mylo™️, in collaboration with Bolt Threads.

“These rare, exclusive Mylo™️ pieces embody our shared commitment with Bolt Threads to innovate a kinder fashion industry–one that sees the birth of beautiful, luxurious materials as opposed to the deaths of our fellow creatures and planet,” announced the brand’s founder Stella McCartney in a press release.

As of mid-March, Parisian leather powerhouse Hermès hopped on the mushroom leather bandwagon, in partnership with and Bolt Threads competitor MycoWorks. The brand’s first mycelium product will come in the form of the house’s Victoria bag, set to hit the market by the end of the year.

Given the product’s early stages, it’s likely a long ways away before mushroom leather reaches the mass market. Hope, however, is not lost, as it’s not only high-end fashion houses that have demonstrated an interest in the material’s potential. 2020 saw the development of the Mylo Consortium, where brands including Adidas, Lululemon, and Kering announced partnerships with Bolt Threads, collectively investing in the company’s developmental research. Perhaps mushroom leather will one day act as a much-needed anecdote to the plastic alternatives sold en masse by fast fashion retailers.

Image credit: Stella McCartney