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  • Writer's pictureMichaela A de Guire

Textiles Grown Using Mushrooms

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

The mushroom textile has been around for a while now, but it is still in the research and development phase because it takes a while to grow even just enough for a t-shirt. Mass Production was not an option until recently, but it's still not 100% ready for the world. There seems to be an influx of eco-friendly alternatives in regards to fabric, most being plant-based. Such as seaweed, cactus, pineapple, cork, coffee grounds and mycelium cells (mushroom roots), anything food waste really, and so much more.

Mushrooms and the root system under the forest floor.

Biodegradable and eco-friendly materials made for plants and waste are not new, they have been around for centuries. It is just starting to return after a very long pause, and they are coming back better than before. Personally I am glad to hear they are making a big comeback, consumers are starting to realize what the fast past consumption and fast fashion industry has been doing to the humans behind the scenes and the earth before them. With biodegradable clothes comes quality and certainty. When something costs a little more, we tend to care for it a little better. Thus, quality clothes are what we should be investing in. Also, quality tends to last longer because it was made with better textiles and with more care.

What is Mycelium textiles?

Mycelium-based textiles can be as soft and porous as a sponge or as hard as enamel and shell-like simply by altering the amount of humidity, light, temperature, exchange of gas, and the type of food the mushroom is given, hemp, straw, etc. When making it into a usable fabric it can be thin for clothes or thick for upholstery items, such as car seats, chairs, sofas, etc.

Mycelium textiles can be used to make leather for both the fashion industry and the upholstery industry.

Mycelium is the root system of the mushroom, this is the part that gets harvested to make a nearly entirely biodegradable leather-like fabric. It is being used today in both the clothing and furniture industry. If you are familiar with Mylo then you have seen mushrooms at work. Mylo is a mycelium based fabric that was developed by Bolt-Threads and is being produced by them for companies such as Adidas, Stella McCartney, and Lululemon. It is not available for sale to others as of yet.

Another company to check out that also launched their mycelium based textile in 2020 is mycoWorks. It all began in the 1990's when Phil Ross grew art sculptures using the reishi mushrooms, he did it for both fun, from the art perspective and for medicinal use during the HIV crisis in San Francisco. When his artworks drew attention from around the world he saw an opportunity and called his long-time friend to start a company with him, thus Sophia Wang helped found mycoWorks in 2013. It wasn't until three years later, in 2016, that the first flexible mycelium material was made and performed like leather. And in 2020 the reishi fine mycelium debuted at the New York fashion week. You can find his full story here.

Bolt-Threads makes the mycelium textile by recreating what is happening on the forest floor in their controlled environment, their lab. mycoWorks uses a similar process in a controlled environment as well. Staring with mycelial cells and feeding them sawdust and organic material while controlling the humidity and temperature and other variables. As the mycelium grows it begins to look like a big bag of smashed marshmallows with a foamy layer. Then, the mycelium is harvested and the remaining material that is not needed gets composted. The mycelium is processed and dyed as a sheet of mycelium and it becomes the leather-like textile that gets used to make footwear, handbags, wallets, phone cases, and other sustainable products.

Of course each manufacturer produces everything differently and thus, mycelium fabric from each company has different properties that make them more or less sustainable than rawhide leather. However, when compared to faux leather it is indeed more sustainable. Faux leather is made with a synthetic fiber and a PVC coating, while Mylo and the Fine Reishi is made with mycelium, a plant base.

The Independent Industry

I believe an industry should not have to depend upon another industry. For example, if a company wanted to make leather boots, but couldn’t produce enough for the demand because the company that requires the beef has reached their quota and requires no more. Then the boot manufacturer is unable to please their clients as they cannot obtain the rawhide to make the leather necessary to fill the orders. The mycelium textile would come in handy at this point as it can act and look like leather, while being independent from the food industry.

Walking leather boots

It is also said that mycelium can handle more wear and tear than authentic leather, although I can’t say yay or nay to this as I do not have any mycelium clothing, footwear, or handbags, yet. And, as it is still in the research and production phase, I’d say it hasn’t been around long enough to really know.

I do like the fact that biodegradable textiles are making a return after years of being away. I also like the fact that mycelium textiles look and feel like authentic leather. I am not saying I do not like authentic leather (because I still do), after all there is still a food industry with a rawhide that shouldn’t go to waste. We can still have authentic leather, but we would no longer need to over produce to get what we “want” or “need”. We have a chance to create harmony and a balance in both industries.

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