There is a sort of leather that is not of animal origin. Mushroom leather is created using the mycelium, that is, mushroom roots. This sort of vegetable leather has long been identified as the potential substitute for animal leather, but its use has been slowed down by the incontrollable natural growth process of mycelium, which varies unpredictably resulting in uneven resistance to traction, thickness and transpiration properties. These factors have hindered the development of this product for the fashion and shoe industry, up until American company MycoWorks (https://www.mycoworks.com/) developed a production system for their “Fine Mycelium”, which is now also exploited by high-profile fashion industry companies such as Hermès. MycoWorks was founded in 2013 and it currently has a revenue of 62 million dollars.
The system for mycelium growth that the company has developed consists mainly of a tray that facilitates the movement of a gas through the mycelium mixture, which controls and maintains the ideal conditions to programme a controlled growth. Production is then automated, manual processes having been put aside in order to increase quality, standardise the final product, and also to allow a complete traceability of the product. Unlike traditional leather, the production process of Fine Mycelium allows for the customisation of sizes: trays where mycelium will be grown can be built in various sizes according to the needs of customers. For instance, companies that produce shoes have optimised the production process in order to reduce the components of the vamp to one single element. By using MycoWorks’s Fine Mycelium, the leather can be cultivated in a size that is optimal for shoes, leaving little to zero waste. The cost of Fine Mycelium is currently higher than animal leather, but it will certainly decrease when production volumes will increase.
Moreover, other mycelium “textiles” have been produced by experimenting with virgin and recycled vegetable substances such as cork, coconut fibre and agricultural waste. These materials have environmental benefits because their production doesn’t involve the use of heavy metals, plastic and animal slaughter. Instead, such vegetable textiles can satisfy the growing demand of organic materials from the fashion and shoe industry.