Fungi has been taking over industries for the past few years. Although it’s been mostly seen in the world of plastics and packaging, it has recently caught the eye of fashion companies that are striving for a more sustainable future using biomaterials instead of animal products or plastic-based textiles like polyester and chiffon.
As listed in fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, fashion brands like Adidas, Hermes, Iris Van Herpen, and Stella McCartney are steering towards a fungi based fashion. According to Grand View Research report published in May 2021 titled Mushroom Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product, By Form, By Application, By Distribution Channel, And Segment Forecasts, 2021 – 2028, “the mushroom market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% from 2021 to 2028 to reach USD 95,245.3 million by 2028”
More specifically, however, these companies aren’t looking into simply fungi and mushroom-like shapes for aesthetics; they’re looking into mycelium. Mycelium is a mass of hyphae, the long vegetative structures that are the core of fungi, which absorbs nutrients from the environment and releases carbon dioxide. The complex structure of mycelium makes it so that it can be transformed into clothing, plant-based meals, and even construction and packaging materials. Put simply, mycelium’s multicellular fibers grow incredibly fast and are invisible to the human eye. It can be used in a plethora of ways because it has the unique ability to be transformed into almost anything. In fashion, it can be made into sheets of biomaterial, which in return result in a remarkably similar composition to durable, strong and softly patinated leather.
Not only does it provide an uncanny resemblance to leather, but it is also cheaper and more environmentally-safe to produce. According to ethical shopping app, Good On You, “a kilogram of leather requires 17,000 litres of water to produce, the livestock industry is responsible for nearly 15% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and contributes significantly to deforestation”. This has made the pursuit of eco-friendly alternatives to leather an important issue in the fashion industry, which has made luxury groups team up with startups and research groups to offer the best possible biomass option. An excellent example of how they team up is Hermes and MycoWorks.
MycoWorks is a biotechnology company founded by 2 artists in San Francisco, California that found its origins in the 1990’s. Working at the intersection of art, science, nature and technology, their team of experts include scientists, artists, engineers and storytellers. MycoWorks mission is to create a platform for the highest quality materials using Fine Mycelium™, a patented technology. They’re mostly known for their flagship product: Reishi™, a natural material that compares in quality and performance to the finest animal leathers. However, one shouldn’t use the term “mushroom leather” when referring to MycoWorks’ products. Mushroom leather is compressed mycelium, while the Fine Mycelium technology “engineers mycelium during growth to create the proprietary, interlocking cellular structures that give our material its superior strength and durability.”
The Fine Mycelium process offers the unique advantage of total control over quality and customization. The materials used for its creation are custom-grown to MycoWorks’ partners’ desires and specifications for performance, aesthetic features and more. This kind of flexibility and adaptation lures brands in, as it gives them creative control, all while minimizing waste and ensuring consistent quality. Another incredible specification about the Fine Mycelium is that during its creation, it captures data at every stage of growth of the mycelium cells, which are later used to refine and tweak each its structure and appearance, strength, flexibility and thickness, making it easier for brands to see their desired outcomes in less than six weeks and ensuring quality.
In March this year, Hermès unveiled its partnership with MycoWorks, which was forged to reimagine the fashion brand’s classic ‘Victoria’ travel bag using the biotechnology company’s patented Fine Mycelium technology. The collaboration took three years in the making, and the final result, the Sylvania purse, is described as “the result of a shared vision for growing the future of materials and a quest to unlock new design possibilities.”
Matt Scullin, current CEO of MycoWorks CEO, said about the collaboration: “We could not imagine a better partner than Hermès to present our first object made of Fine Mycelium. Hermès and MycoWorks share common values of craftsmanship, quality, innovation, and patience. I was introduced to MycoWorks in 2017, which coincided with Hermès’ first experience with Fine Mycelium. At the time, MycoWorks was based in a small artist’s studio. Together, we saw the potential of this incredible material. The power of storytelling is key in any new technology or art. Hermès related to our story: that Fine Mycelium was rooted in artistic practice and craftsmanship. At the same time, Hermès recognized that MycoWorks’ unique biotechnology approach to enhancing a natural material meant that Fine Mycelium had the potential to be the highest quality mycelium in the world. Sylvania represents how nature and biotechnology can work in concert to create a material with the highest standards of quality.”
On the other hand, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the Hermès Artistic Director, said: “MycoWorks’ vision and values echo those of Hermès: 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. With Sylvania, Hermès is at the heart of what it has always been: innovation in the making.”
The Fine Mycelium is produced in the MycoWorks facility in California and is then shipped to France, where it is then tanned and finished by the Hermès tanners to refine its strength and durability even more, and finally, shaped in the workshops by the Hermès craftspeople.
This collaboration between fashion and biotechnology gives us a small taste of what sustainable fashion can truly be, and how companies from all industries can work together to create incredible sustainable products with biomaterials.