How mushrooms are changing the face of fashion

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The unassuming mushroom and, more precisely, its root system, innocently growing here and there in the wild, appears poised to revolutionize the fashion industry, and in turn, our wardrobes. Mycelium, which just a few months ago seemed the stuff of science fiction, is about to enter the luxury market thanks to Stella McCartney, which will market a first bag made of this vegan alternative to animal leather in July.

Who would have thought it? Mushrooms could soon — and sooner than expected — become the star of our wardrobes. Several biotech companies have been working on this ingredient for several years to develop a vegan, leather-like material, creating a real buzz in the fashion industry. Until now, however, it has only been used in a handful of products, or in combination with other materials, including (real) leather, as at Hermès, with a unique version of the Victoria bag.

But things could accelerate from July thanks to Stella McCartney. The designer, who unveiled a first mushroom-based look in 2021, will this summer serve up the world’s first bag made of Mylo, a material made from mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom formed of filaments, and apparently “infinitely renewable.” The Frayme Mylo bag, designed in partnership with Bolt Threads, will only be available in a limited edition of 100 pieces, but it already sounds like a revolution in an industry in search of sustainable solutions that respect animal welfare.

Make way for mycelium 

The fashion industry is gradually turning to more sustainable alternatives to animal leather, derived from materials such as cactus, banana, corn, apple, grape or pineapple. But these new materials have quickly been overtaken by the mushroom root, or mycelium, which seems to be of great interest to the biggest luxury labels, as well as to more mainstream brands. And everything suggests that it could quickly become the material of the future.

The start-up MycoWorks, which is working on developing mycelium as a vegan alternative to leather, recently raised $125 million to enable it to mass produce this now famous ‘mushroom leather.’ The funds raised will be used to launch the first large-scale production facility for Fine Mycelium, its innovative technology behind its mycelium-based materials, including Reishi.

Properties similar to leather

Thanks to its patented Fine Mycelium process, MycoWorks is able to produce natural materials with the same characteristics as animal leather, but with less environmental impact. It’s a technology that seems to have gained approval from one of the most prominent leather goods manufacturers on the planet, Hermès, which has collaborated with MycoWorks to develop a bag composed partially of mushroom fibers.

MycoWorks’ new facility, located in South Carolina, will build on the company’s semi-automated pilot plant in California, which has been in operation for a year, and could produce several hundred thousand square meters of its Fine Mycelium material per year, as the startup itself points out in a statement. In addition to Hermès, MycoWorks says it already has contracts in place with “a range of major global luxury brands,” without specifying names, and that this large-scale production could make the prices of products based on its Mycelium much more accessible than at present.

And as we’ve already seen, MycoWorks isn’t the only start-up to have jumped into the race to develop ‘mushroom leather.’ Bolt Threads Inc, which created Mylo, works hand in hand with many giants of the fashion industry, including adidas, Kering and … Stella McCartney. It remains to be seen how the public will react to this material, which is widely regarded as innovative — even revolutionary — across almost the entire industry.

This story first appeared on AFP RelaxNews 

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