Brands like Adidas and Lululemon have initiated collaborations with plant-based leather manufacturers. Gucci recently announced a new line of shoes to be produced with Demetra – its in-house mushroom leather developed over the past two years in Italy. Although not all types of vegan leather are environmentally sustainable substitutes for animal hides, the luxury fashion industry’s interest in plant-based textile alternatives grows with every passing day. With a current estimated market of 600 million dollars, its value is expected to grow 6.1% during the next 4 years.
Sustainable, easy to produce, and biodegradable, many luxury fashion designers favor mushroom leather in the green era of fashion design. And while cruelty-free doesn’t always equal chemical-free, that is not the case with this type of textile.
But why is mushroom or mycelium leather attracting so much interest and why right now? And why should emerging luxury fashion designers consider it for products in their early collections?
What Is Mushroom Leather?
Mushrooms are similar to icebergs in that the actual mushroom, the part that we can see and touch, is only a small piece of the whole fungus. Its roots, better known as mycelium, are a soft, white thread that can sometimes extend for several meters and can grow almost anywhere.
This extensive web is what is commonly used to produce mushroom leather. After farming it in controlled indoor environments, the mycelium reproduces into flat, foamy sheets that get harvested, processed, and dyed like animal leather, but without any of the same aggressive and polluting chemicals. Because the products used to treat this material are organic and eco-friendly, mushroom leather turns out to be not only as durable as its animal hide based counterpart, but also completely biodegradable.
So far, fungi-based leather is one of the most efficient fashion industry responses to calls for environmental waste accountability and offset. Just as mushrooms nurture the ecosystem in which they grow, so has fashion begun a cautious entry into an era of improved sustainability-awareness, utilizing plant-based materials.
4 Reasons to Choose Mushroom or Mycelium Leather
Launching your growing luxury brand head first into a new trend might sound careless or irrational, but using mushroom leather textiles in your product line is worth serious consideration. Here’s why choosing mushroom leather right now could prove a good investment for your fashion brand:
Less Time and Space to Produce Mycelium
How many times have you spotted a mushroom that you felt wasn’t there the night before? Although the fungus was probably incubating for some time, one of the main characteristics of mushrooms is that they can grow very quickly and almost anywhere. Unlike animal leather, which requires space and time invested in animal farming prior to leather processing and production, mycelium uses less land space and takes only a few weeks to grow, resulting in a low environmental impact.
More Textile Thickness Options
Do you need a thin layer of leather for a hat? Or some thick samples for a well-built bag? No problem. Mushroom leather is an amazing and versatile material, and can be produced in whatever thickness you need it to be. Plus, depending on the timing of your order and requested delivery date, some plant-based textile manufacturers will let you choose the exact thickness of the leather you order.
Imagine creating a collection of leather jackets or shoes that didn’t require chemical treatment to make it waterproof. It sounds amazing, right? Well, you might want to keep mushroom leather in mind: while most plant-based leathers (like apple and pineapple) are only water-resistant, the only thing needed to make the fungi product water-repellent is a thin layer of eco-wax. This means that, the product you’re planning on designing won’t just resist water-intrusion; it could potentially be completely submerged without any lasting damage.
Cost of Material
Prices vary for different kinds of leather – whether plant-based, synthetic, or genuine – so consider all of your options, especially if you have a restrictive budget. The current estimated price of mushroom leather lands at about $50 per square foot. Industry experts expect this cost to reduce as the material exits the development period and moves toward mass production and sale. Right now, raw tanned vegetable leather easily surpasses the costs of mushroom leather depending on the cut and the quality (starting from $30 up to $200). However, pineapple leather is currently much more affordable, with an average price ranging from $17 dollars for a small piece (between 25-70cm x 155cm) to $50 for an extra large sample (160-190cm x 155cm).
3 Mushroom Leather Manufacturers
Although most of the plant-based alternatives to leather are still being developed, a couple of accessible mushroom leather suppliers do sell to designers online. The following are some of the main investors and manufacturers of alternative-leather that either already sell their products online or that plan to soon.
To produce its leather, this current leading mushroom leather manufacturer uses mycelium that grows in vertical farming facilities located in Europe and the United States.
The Mylo Consortium includes brands like Adidas, Kering, Lululemon, and Stella McCartney. This group is currently working on clothing prototypes of Stan Smiths, bags, bustier tops, trousers, and yoga accessories made with mushroom leather to be released between Summer 2022 and the end of 2023. As the Mylo website says “[these brands were] Selected based on mission alignment, high standards of quality, and the ability to scale worldwide. These partners banded together to invest in meaningful material innovation with Mylo”. Although their product is still only available for consortium partners, the final goal is to share it with brands and designers from all over the world.
Unlike most of the other fungi-based leather manufacturers, which produce their textile with mycelium, MuSkin uses the caps of a parasitic fungus called Phellinus ellipsoideus. Anyone can get their materials from their website: you can choose the dimensions and quality of the product. Their samples range from a small (10~15 cm X 15~22 cm), to a medium (13~20 cm X 23~30 cm) to a large (17~25 cm X 30~45 cm) cut, all with a thickness of 0.5 to 1 cm.
As for quality, you can choose between first and second choice, although the latter comes with a warning from the manufacturer warning of visible defects such as little holes and scratches. MuSkin’s prices range from 22€ for a small piece of second choice leather, to 77€ for a large, first choice piece.
Produced by MycoWorks, Reishi is one of the main manufacturers of mushroom leather. Their leather is available in two different colors: brown natural and black emboss. Getting information on prices and availability from this supplier might be a long process, but that is to be expected from a brand that’s already collaborating with none other than Hermès itself.
Although some mushroom leather suppliers still restrict their production and sales to a very exclusive group of well-known designers and brands, up and coming luxury designers can still source it online in select amounts. This gives them the ability to order a few different samples to try them out before actually committing to using it for a full product line.
Despite plant-based mushroom leather not yet being easily available on a larger scale, it’s already at the center of some of the biggest fashion firms’ future collections. We can only expect to see more of it showing up in top fashion products with every passing season. We encourage you to experiment with mushroom leather before other brands crowd out the market (and steal the title of innovator in the minds of customers and the fashion press). Now is the time to start thinking about investing in this product.