Mushrooms could be the answer to “unleather”

by Ofentse Sefolo
Mushrooms could be the answer to “unleather”

Major fashion houses will sell products made from mushroom leather by next year, making it the best news for animals and animal lovers all over the world.

Adidas, Stella McCartney, Lululemon and Gucci’s parent company, Kering, have teamed up to invest in a novel material called Mylo. This material is grown from mycelium, found in the root structure of mushrooms and other fungi, and is said to rival the look and feel of animal leather.

The time is now to embrace new frontiers of possibility and “unleather” the products we use every day.

As part of a newly established business consortium, the brands have each agreed to spend seven-figure sums to help level up the production capabilities of Mylo’s inventor, United States of America (USA) biotechnology company, Bolt Threads. The plan is to create a supply chain for the vegan leather, which would allow it to be manufactured at a commercially viable scale.

Mylo is a leather alternative made by biotechnology company Bolt Threads
“What we are trying to do with Mylo, is scaling it beyond where biomaterials have been – relegated to one-offs or museum pieces – and instead making it a material that millions of people can wear every day,” explains Jamie Bainbridge, vice-president of product development at Bolt Threads.

According to Bainbridge, the consortium represents the largest joint development agreement to date that is aimed at introducing a biomaterial to the mass market.

A beautifully manufactured, limited release Mylo driver bag (in black), made with Chester Wallace.

“After several brands and even entire fashion weeks have gone fur-free in recent years, vegan leather could be the next step.”

The hope is that this initial investment will eventually allow Mylo to be produced at a similar speed and efficiency as other mass-market materials, to make it affordable for even smaller companies.

The consortium is made up of a strategic mix of luxury and sportswear brands, in an effort to launch its new renewable textile Mylo in a scalable way.

“These companies are enabling us to develop a process that will eventually produce a high-quality leather alternative at a comparable price to leather hide, but that’s going to take a few years, notes Bainbridge.

The process begins with mycelium cells grown on beds of sawdust and other organic material. Billions of cells grow to form an interconnected 3D network which is processed, tanned and dyed to make Mylo.

Grown over the course of two weeks

The material’s core ingredient is mycelium, the thread structure that mushrooms and other fungi use to grow, much like the roots of a tree.

These mycelium cells are fed with sawdust and other organic material and placed on square growing mats. In a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment, they can grow into a foamy layer – imagine a big bag of smashed marshmallows – and can then be finally harvested.

After further processing, the material resembles a thin sheet of cork. Through further processing, this mycelium network is turned into a sheet of material that resembles cork but is much thinner and more flexible, which is then tanned and dyed by the same tanneries that work with animal leathers.

Mushrooms are the fruit of mycelium. Much like the branches and vines that grow apples or grapes, mycelium functions like these twisting branching supports just under the earth’s surface.

Fur-free fashion shows

Compared to animal leather, the company claims that the process of producing the material emits fewer greenhouse gasses while consuming less water and natural resources than are involved in the rearing of livestock.

Unlike synthetic leather alternatives, it also does not use any petroleum-based plastics such as polyurethane or PVC, which emit carbon as they are produced and will take hundreds of years to break down in landfills.

As this product is in early development, the data to verify how much carbon is emitted and how many resources are consumed during the process of making Mylo and how the material will impact the environment when it is ultimately disposed of, is not yet publicly available, but it seems that it could soon be a viable alternative.

Read more about Mylo’s impact measurement approach here.

Watch this space!

For more information, visit www.mylo-unleather.com.

Click here to watch growth time lapse.

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