Making mushrooms for the vegan leather industry

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Mushroom Leather makes some pretty healthy profits. Mushroom fabric has officially arrived with big brands like Adidas, Lululemon, Stella McCarthy, and Tommy Hilfiger making handbags, sneakers, yoga mats, and even pants made from mushroom leather.

According to the latest data from Grand View Research, vegan fashion market was valued at 396.3 billion in 2019, with an expected annual growth of 14%.

And that was before mushroom leather started showing up in unlikely places.

The latest to adopt mushroom leather is Mercedes-Benz. It outfitted the interior of its VISION EQXX, a new sleek luxury electric car prototype, with mushroom leather.

Mercedes-Benz design director Gorden Wagener describes the automaker’s use of vegan leather as an “exhilarating experiment” to look luxurious while moving away from animal products.

“They show a way forward for luxury design that conserves resources,” Wagener said. It has also earned high marks for its quality from industry leaders.

The manufacture of mushroom leather is indeed environmentally friendly in itself. It is made from the root of a fungus called mycelium. Not only does the mycelium reach maturity in a few weeks, but it consumes very little energy because it does not require sunlight and does not need to be fed.

To make mushroom leather, the mycelium is grown on an organic material like sawdust, which through a natural biological process forms a thick mat that looks and feels like leather.

Mushroom leather is already hailed in Brazil. According to a recent study by stand.earthMore than 100 major fashion brands export products made with Brazilian leather, which comes from cattle ranches that have been deforesting the Amazon rainforest for two decades.

Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), said vegan products like mushroom leather eliminate the policy of supporting cattle ranchers for forest preservation. “The fashion industry, which buys these products, can now choose a better side,” she said.

In the five years since its invention, the mushroom leather industry has attracted both major investors and some of the most famous designers in the fashion world.

Last year, Patrick Thomas, former CEO of Hermes International, a brand known worldwide for specializing in luxury leather goods, and Ian Bickley, president of the Coach fashion house, both joined Mycoworks, one of of the two American mushroom leather manufacturers. The California-based company recently secured $125 million in funding from global investment firms, including Prime Movers Lab, known for funding major science and technology breakthroughs.

“This opportunity is huge, and we believe that unparalleled product quality combined with a proprietary and scalable manufacturing process enables MycoWorks to serve as the backbone of the new materials revolution,” said the company’s general partner, David Siminoff, in a press release.

Mycoworks is using the funding to build a new factory in Union County, South Carolina, where it plans to grow several million square feet of mushroom leather.

Bolt Threads, the other American mushroom leather maker, has formed a consortium comprised of several apparel giants to produce a variety of mushroom leather products, including Adidas, which recently partnered with the company to revamp its popular Stan Smith leather sneakers with vegan leather. The company recently purchased a button mushroom farm in the Netherlands to launch massive products of its mushroom leather in partnership with a European mushroom leather manufacturer.

Fibre2Fashion, a global textile fashion industry tracker, recently concluded that mushroom leather may soon appear in more consumer products. “Soon we should see fashionable bags, biker jackets, high heels and mushroom leather accessories in stores around the world,” he wrote in his findings.

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