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Spores In Style

How the fantastical world of fungi wove its way into fashion

Every so often, a new alternative material is touted as the ‘new thing’ in fashion. So, how does the industry’s new darling, mushroom leather, measure up?

Though it has the whiff of a new-age experiment, mycelium-based material has been in the works for decades. In 2007, artist Philip Ross displayed his creations at an exhibition in the Bay Area. They experimented with ‘mycotecture’ – the process of manipulating mycelium, derived from mushrooms, to create a kind of fabric. It was through preparing for his show that he met Sophia Wang, then a Ph.D. student. Together, in 2013, the pair went on to found MycoWorks, a company which aimed to make a business out of of Ross’ technique. 

Reishi™, the material that MycoWorks has now patented, is made by engineering mycelium during its growth using MycoWorks’ technology to create strong, interlocking cellular structures. The resulting fabric can be grown into specific shapes and sizes, reducing the potential for materials waste. It is strong, durable, and imitates the look and feel of cow’s leather.

Until now, most alternatives to leather – often called ‘vegan leather’ – have been made of plastics or polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC). But mushroom leather is here to change that. MycoWorks now has partnerships with luxury brands like Ligne Roset, Nick Fouquet and General Motors. In 2021, it developed a material specifically for luxury maison Hèrmes called Sylvania. Sylvania was created in MycoWorks’s production facility, and then tanned and finished in France by the Hermès tanners in order to “further refine its strength and durability”, after which it was shaped into bags in workshops by Hermès’s craftsmen. The House of Hermès was pleased.

“It’s the first time that a company is able to produce a vegetal product which is matching or even exceeding the quality and durability and aesthetics of a natural one,” said Patrick Thomas, former CEO of the house and a MycoWorks board of directors member, in 2021. “It’s a super achievement.”

But, while the Hèrmes endorsement is clearly a lucrative one, MycoWorks doesn’t see the future of fungi in fashion as solely in the luxury sphere. It plans to open its first plant in South Carolina this year, which will allow it to create “millions” of square feet of its mycelium material. This, notes CEO of the company, Matt Scullin, means “more objects in the hands of consumers, which will hopefully lead to more investment into this incredible innovation, bringing us full circle.”

Read the full article in Grazia here.