The scientists behind the latest must-have trend in fashion, the “mushroom leather” handbag, believe that the material they are using for accessories has the power to save more than just animals. Mycelium is a material grown from fungi that can be engineered to look and feel like calfskin or sheepskin, and the researchers think it can save the planet.
Dr Matt Scullin, CEO of biomaterials company MycoWorks, forecast that mushroom leather could be a sustainability gamechanger, “unlocking a future of design which begins with the material, not with the object”.
The material made its high-end debut as an exclusive Hermes handbag, which has become a much sought-after item. The material can be grown from fungi in a matter of weeks and replicates the feel and look of leather while being stronger and more durable.
“It can give the same emotional response as animal leather. It has that hand-feel of rarity,” says Scullin. On a planet of finite natural resources, Scullin believes both the technology and the mindset of carbon-neutral, grown-to-order mushroom leather could be “revolutionary” – and have implications for innovation in manufacture beyond fashion.
The Business of Fashion Voices conference is about to begin in Oxfordshire, and joining Dr Scullin there will be Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Lives: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures. Sheldrake, a biologist, is joining a lineup that also includes designers Vivienne Westwood and Tommy Hilfiger, “because I am excited to support the fashion world in its efforts to become more sustainable. There is so much potential in fungi to overcome some of the problems we face,” he said.
He believes that the impact on mushroom leather on our culture could go way beyond a new It bag. “We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line whereby we buy something, use it and throw it away. Fungi can inform thinking about fashion on lots of levels. This is about material innovation, but it’s also about the culture of making endless new things, and what we can learn from thinking in terms of nature and of cycles instead.”
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