By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
We’ve heard about mushroom as a shade, kind of like taupe and grey had a baby. But…as a fabric? GradoZero Espace is one of the bio-materials company behind a new textile innovation: mushroom leather, a vegetable eco-alternative to animal leather that basically makes cow leather redundant.
MuSkin is created by extracting cells from Phellinus ellipsoideus, a large parasitic fungus that grows in the wild, attacking trees in the subtropical forests, and growing it in a lab. Unlike most other vegan leathers, MuSkin is breathable, and comes with an additional feature: it limits bacteria proliferation, which is good news for those of us who have suffered stinky, sweaty feet after wearing vegan shoes made from synthetic textiles. Although mushroom leather isn’t waterproof by nature, this can be solved with a cheap eco-wax treatment, making it fully, quickly biodegradable – unlike both tanned leathers and most vegan leathers, too.
MuSkin is just one brand name for mushroom leathers; different companies have come up with different kinds from various species of mushroom. But all such leathers can easily be shaped into three-dimensional forms like purses, watch straps, shoe insoles, and hats, thus reducing textile waste. Another bonus is that it can be stamped and textured to emulate any kind of exotic leather you can imagine – the bumps of ostrich skin, the scales of snakeskin or the thick hides of alligator can all be imitated, as can the softness of suede or lamb leather.
In terms of quality, the material is divided into three sizes (small, medium, large), along with two grade quality specifications: first and second choice. The latter may have visible defects like holes or scratched surface, but for us, half the charm of this natural material is that it has an organic, irregular surface – just like leather!
At a cost of around fifty dollars per square foot, MuSkin is economically competitive with exotic animal skins, but unlike those, it’s possible to tan and dye this material without any nasty chemicals, which makes it perfect for wearing right next to your own delicate skin. You can actually already purchase it raw, here.
Obviously, another huge benefit of MuSkin is that it’s 100% cruelty free. This isn’t just good for animals – it’s good for the whole planet, too. Why, you ask? Well, cows eat water-intensive grains, which themselves could feed far more people per acre than animals could. To give you an idea of how much water farm animals use, domestic water is responsible for about 5% of all water used every day-animal agriculture uses 55%!
When you think that every year, we kill 70 billion farm animals—that’s TEN TIMES the number of humans on the planet-it’s no big shock that cows and sheep take up more water than we do; in fact, animals take up 1/3 of all fresh drinking water on the planet, even while humans are dying of thirst. And did I mention that tanning and dyeing leather seriously pollutes waterways?
MuSkin has been patented and commercial fashion producers are already signed up to use it (though Mycoworks won’t say who – come on, tell!). We’d love to see this move out of the realm of fashion and become as ubiquitous as leather – let’s see it in car seats, on sofas, and as luggage, for example.
Competition is mushrooming
But MuSkin isn’t the only mushroom leather on the block: there’s also Bolt Threads.
They’ve already partnered with several brands, including Stella McCartney and Patagonia, to develop bio materials including Mylo, a lab-grown fabric that has the look and feel of leather but is made with mycelium, or mushroom root structure.
The unisex Bolt Projects Mylo Driver Bag (pictured below, and in the main image above) was designed in collaboration with fashion brand Chester Wallace, and went on sale via Kickstarter recently, offering just over 100 items to start with, but Bolt Threads said it hoped to have sufficiently developed its production facilities to start selling them on a bigger scale by the end of next year.
Bolt Threads has further competition with the likes of Modern Meadow, a New Jersey-based company that specializes in lab-grown bio-fabricated leather materials. For example, Modern Meadow has developed a yeast that, when mixed with sugar, produces a collagen that then is purified, processed and tanned to create material which feels and looks like leather. Instead of collagen, Bolt Threads uses a different process based on mushroom root structure.
Luckily for animals, the sector for alternative materials is growing in interest from major fashion groups such as Kering and LVMH but it is still at early stage in terms of development. Initial production remains limited and finished products are costly. But mushroom leather is an innovation that we hope will make us look back on leather goods one day in the not so distant future and make us wonder what the hell we were thinking by wearing dead animals on our feet and backs for so long.