MycoWorks’ Leather Looks and Feels Real: But it’s Made of Mushrooms
MycoWorks, a California-based biotech company, is changing the landscape of high fashion with leather made of mushrooms. The company, founded in 2013, has created a new eco-friendly vegan leather made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. This new material is almost indistinguishable from animal leather. The product turns heads across the industry, resulting in collaborations with luxury brands.
Though other companies have created leather products out of mushrooms, the material created by MycoWorks is different because of how similar it is to actual leather. MycoWorks takes mycelium and creates a rigid material known as fine mycelium, which is as strong, durable, and soft as traditional leather. This process took the company more than a decade to refine. The fine mycelium can be grown quickly and exactly to specification, eliminating any waste, and avoiding recent supply chain concerns. First, the company harvests the mushrooms. Then, using chromium-free chemistry, it turns it into a product it calls Reishi. That product is then tanned and finished as needed. In fact, it’s the world’s only proprietary biotechnology that harnesses the potential of mycelium. Its lower environmental impact and durability are at the heart of its burgeoning success.
Co-founder Sophia Wang is confident the product will soon be common. “We are at a precipice in values-based consumer practices where buyers want more transparency, clarity, and responsibility from the products and brands they support,” she explained. “[We are] uniquely positioned to scale and to have a major impact on the luxury fashion and footwear industries because our approach has always been to put performance and quality first. Brands and consumers are not going to sacrifice performance for sustainability. Performance leads to adoption, and widespread adoption leads to impact.”
Various brands in the industry are following this sustainable alternative to creating their products. Luxury brands like Hermes debuted their first handbag made of mushrooms. Additionally, Adidas, Lululemon, and Stella McCartney have all announced products made with mushrooms. Natalie Portman and John Legend have also publicly supported MycoWorks.
“MycoWorks’ vision and values echo those of Hermes,” said Hermes Artistic Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas. “A strong fascination with natural raw material and its transformation, a quest for excellence, with the aim of ensuring that objects are put to their best use and that their longevity is maximized.”
Today, MycoWorks is benefiting from the support of industry veteran Hermes CEO Patrick Thomas, who was recently appointed to the company’s board.
“The fashion and footwear industries’ desire to add quality animal leather alternatives to their design process is decades old and the demand from consumers is ever-growing,” he said. “Why hasn’t the shift already started? Because MycoWorks’ technology is the first to meet their quality standards. MycoWorks will be the backbone of this expansion.”
Making leather from mushrooms is a sustainable process that cuts down on bovine leather manufacturing, which has a greater environmental impact (including deforestation and methane gasses) than any other type of leather, including plastic leathers.
Plant-based leathers have a bright future for the environment. In addition to the mushroom products, companies are experimenting with pineapple and cacti as source materials.
“We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line whereby we buy something, use it, and throw it away,” said biologist Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Lives: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures. “Fungi can inform thinking about fashion on lots of levels. This is about material innovation, but it’s also about the culture of making endless new things, and what we can learn from thinking in terms of nature and of cycles instead.”
MycoWorks is currently expanding after a $45 million Series B financing raise, hoping to open a second factory in 2022.