Californian Firm Introduces Sustainable ‘Mushroom Leather’ As Vegan Alternative 

Dr. Matt Scullin is the CEO of biomaterials company MycoWorks. He recently discussed their newest vegan alternative to leather that could help save more than just animals. The scientists behind the alternative believe that mycelium, a material grown from fungi, could help save the planet as it can be engineered to look and feel like real leather. 

“We’re predicting that mushroom leather could be a sustainability gamechanger, unlocking a future of design which begins with the material, not with the object.”

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Fine Mycelium is a patented material that can be grown from fungi in trays within a matter of weeks. The material replicates both the appearance and feel of leather, while outperforming it in strength and durability. Recently, the material made it’s designer debut as an exclusive Hermès handbag.

“It can give the same emotional response as an animal leather. It has that hand-feel of rarity. On a planet of finite natural resources, both the technology and the mindset of carbon-neutral, grown-to-order mushroom leather could be revolutionary, and have implications for innovation in manufacture beyond fashion,”  says Scullin.

“I’m interested in talking to people in creative industries about how the possibilities of fungi can help open the mind to new ideas. I am excited to support the fashion world in its efforts to become more sustainable. There is so much potential in fungi to overcome some of the problems we face,” says Merlin Sheldrake, author of ‘Entangled Lives: How Fungi Makes Our Worlds, Changes Our Minds, and Shapes Our Futures.’

Mushroom leather can be grown in pieces to a specific shape and size as well, which eliminates the need for cutting and wasting product. A recent report from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index found that bovine leather does more environmental damage than any other fabric, including plastic-based synthetic fabrics. This damage is due to the deforestation and gas emissions associated with harvesting real leather. 

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Leather goods account for about 15% of the luxury market, and scientists believe sustainable alternatives could greatly decrease the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. 

“In order to have a substantial impact on sustainability, the material needs to be accessible at a lower price point. We are working with luxury fashion first because they are ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability. These are brands which are in a position to think big and to think long term,” says Scullin.

Sheldrake believes that “one of the overarching lessons learned from studying fungi is reforming the way we think about waste. If fungi didn’t do what they do, our planet would be piled metres high in the bodies of animals and plants.”

“We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line whereby we buy something, use it and throw it away. 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,” he explained.