Although not an official Chinese Zodiac symbol, it certainly seemed that 2017 was the year of the mushroom. Dominating the health and wellness industry, we saw trends from superfood mushroom coffee to psychoactive mushroom therapy. Now, thanks to companies like Mycoworks, not only can mushrooms be used as one of our fastest growing plant proteins, but can actually be farmed and harvested for sustainable, bio- degradable textiles. Could these little fun-guys be the key to the next boom in sustainable fashion?Image Credit: Pinterest
The bio-materials company, Mycoworks, was founded in 2013 by three founding members: Phillip Ross, Sophia Wang and Eddie Pavlu. The San Fransisco based start-up have come a long way from experimenting with building materials made from mycelium. Finding the building market difficult to crack; through the destruction of mycelium brick dreams, mushroom leather was born.Image Credit: Pinterest
Harnessing the power of one of the most abundant resources on Earth, Mycoworks have developed a technology that allows them to cultivate a leather-like textile from a type of fungi called Ganoderma Lucidum (Reishi mushroom). It acts like an animal hide because it too, is organic. It is tough and durable, water resistant, breathable and out-performs synthetic leather, lamb and sheep skin. It is naturally anti-biotic, so this wondrous material is actually beneficial for our skin.
The mushrooms are cultivated using recycled agricultural waste such as saw dust and corn cobs. Within just two months, a full cow hide-sized mushroom hide is grown. The best part? Not only is mushroom leather organic, fast-growing, processed without toxic chemicals, carbon neutral and utilising waste from the agricultural industry, Mycoworks have pledged to lower the cost of the product to $5 per square metre by 2020. This will allow them to compete with all other leather on the market. Thanks to the commercial production of edible mushrooms, the same process can be used to grow mushroom leather. It is low-tech compared to the production of animal leather and not a single animal is slaughtered in the process.
According to a 2016 Mycoworks presentation, livestock alone consumes 50% of the USA’s water supply and around 10,000 pounds of feed. It is responsible for producing 18% of green house gasses annually and covers around 30% of the Earth’s surface. A single cow hide takes approximately 3 years to reach its full size. 70% of this is then discarded with the remaining 30% being sent to tanneries overseas, commonly in third-world countries.
Bangladesh and India are among those exploited for their cheap labour. Tanneries use toxic chemicals in the process; the run-off waste often being found in the streets, leaching into local water supplies, thus debunking the myth of any ‘ethical’ leather process.
Not only can this vegan material be produced ethically and sustainably; different textures, finishes and thicknesses can be engineered into the hide itself. Not in our wildest dreams could we have imagined doing this with animal hides!
Although originally popular among alternative indie labels, we can expect to see more of this abundant textile on the runway in the coming years. As the eco-fashion movement continues to spread like wildfire, we are seeing an increasingly large number of iconic fashion houses going fur-free, with the likes of Gucci and Prada to name a few. Having some of the loudest and most powerful voices for change, designers are finally starting to accept their social responsibilities.
Image Credit: Pinterest
While activists continue their mission to educate the masses, the demand for a more ethical and cruelty free product soars. Fur is now seen by the majority as an insulting expression (symbol?) of gluttony in the world of fashion. Next up: leather.
A wise man once said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Right on, Ghandi. Systems cannot exist without belief; they are intangible constructs, influenced by the mainstream. One can find great liberation in the fact that we, the people, have more control over what the fashion industries produce – more than we realise.
So how can we find more designers utilising mushroom leather? Ask, and you shall receive; when the demand for mushroom leather snowballs, as will the supply. Just as we are encouraged to write to our local politicians regarding our concerns, we should be doing the same with our designers. Write to brands and designers expressing your disenchantment with animal products, stop buying fur, leather or any other unsustainable textile. Start the trend and spread the word! Support brands that are already harnessing this cutting edge technology.