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Lululemon Gets in on the Fungi Fun With Mushroom Leather Capsule

Stella McCartney got into the act. So did Adidas. Now, Lululemon is joining the fun-gi with what it bills as the world’s first yoga accessories made with Mylo, an animal-free leather derived from the branching root network that sprouts mushrooms.

First teased in Lulu’s fourth-quarter earnings call, the concept yoga mat and two soon-to-be-purchasable bags are part of a collaboration with Bolt Threads, a San Francisco startup that cultivates its ersatz hide using a “highly efficient” growing technique that coaxes the mycelium to extend upward to form an organized mat of enmeshed cells.

Derived entirely from Mylo, the woven yoga mat plays with varying patterns that “complement the placement of hands and feet” during yoga practice, Lululemon said. It also borrows cues from the company’s Take Form mat, which includes 3D texturing to help yogis adjust their asanas without having to visually check their positions.

The Barrel Duffel Bag and the Meditation and Yoga Mat Bag, which will be available to buy in early 2022, feature Mylo in their woven handles and braided pulls—all the better, Lululemon said, for its customers to “experience the premium look and feel of Mylo” in products that serve a functional purpose.

“As a premium athletic brand, having innovative and proprietary fabrics and other materials that help guests feel their best to perform their best is something we’re proud of,” Sun Choe, the athleticwear company’s chief product officer, said in a statement. “Sustainable innovation will continue to play a key role in the future of retail and product, and for us, leveraging a material like Mylo demonstrates our commitment to creating a healthier environment through lower-impact products, while also giving us the ability to reimagine iconic pieces in our line through a sustainability lens.”

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Lululemon joins Stella McCartney, Adidas and luxury conglomerate Kering as a member of the so-called “Mylo consortium,” which Bolt Threads assembled last year to bring the faux leather to market.

In March, Stella McCartney bowed a concept black bustier top and pair of “utilitarian” trousers, handmade by laying panels of the mycelium-based material over recycled nylon scuba, that the British brand said were informed by “effortless sensuality and [its] signature dichotomy of feminine and masculine attitudes.”

“I believe the Stella community should never have to compromise luxury desirability for sustainability, and Mylo allows us to make that a reality,” Stella McCartney, the label’s namesake designer, said at the time. “These rare, exclusive pieces embody our shared commitment with Bolt Threads to innovate a kinder fashion industry—one that sees the birth of beautiful, luxurious materials as opposed to the deaths of our fellow creatures and planet.”

Lululemon x Mylo

The following month, Adidas unveiled the Stan Smith Mylo, which it described as the “next sustainable recreation” of its iconic sneaker. The shoe, too, was a prototype, though the sportswear giant said it would pave the way for a commercially available proof of concept “in the near future.”

“The introduction of Mylo as a new material is a major step forward in our bold ambition to help end plastic waste,” Amy Jones Vaterlaus, global head of future at Adidas, said in a statement. “As a planet, we must learn to work with nature rather than against it and put all our efforts into finding innovative solutions that are created responsibly with resources that renew at a sustainable pace. Designed in synergy with earth’s ecosystems. And as a brand, we continue to explore the possibilities in material innovation.”

While fungal- and plant-based leathers made from cactus fronds, grape skins, and yes, mushroom mycelium, are gaining popularity, their ability to scale beyond a novelty item still remains to be seen.

Lux Research, a Boston technology research firm, estimated in May that annual sales of “low-complexity” leather alternatives, which include fruit- and vegetable-derived materials and recycled-material leathers, are likely to surpass $1 billion by 2025 if technological advances and consumer interest keep up. And if these cruelty-free alternatives can match the scale and price of natural leather, they will “disrupt the leather industry,” according to senior research associate Tiffany Hua.

But critics question how plucked-from-nature this new breed of vegan leather truly is. Not all vegetal leathers are made the same, but many of them employ petrochemical-based polymers, solvents, binding agents or plasticizers that undermine their au naturel branding, one recent study found.

Mylo, which is not biodegradable, is currently certified as 60 percent to 85 percent bio-based under the German DIN-Geprüft standard because it employs “some amount” of petrochemicals in the finishing process, according to Bolt Threads.

“We believe 100 percent bio-based is the right goal, [but] we also know that a material’s potential for impact depends on brand and consumer adoption, and a majority of consumers will not accept big sacrifices in quality compared to leather,” Sue Levin, chief marketing officer, previously told Sourcing Journal. “We have not seen a 100 percent bio-based product yet that meets brand and consumers requirements for softness, strength and suppleness, but we will keep working toward that goal.”

The narrative appeal of a “fungal or plant leather” is such that even luxury stalwarts have been unable to resist.

In June, Gucci released Demetra, a leather alternative that contains upward of 77 percent plant-based materials, including viscose and wood pulp from sustainably managed forests and bio-based polyurethane derived from genetically unmodified European wheat and corn. It also contains other, more conventional compounds that are required to maintain performance and aesthetics, though the Italian house said it’s working to swap them out with eco-friendlier versions. Even so, Gucci stressed that Demetra is “another offering,” one that won’t supplant bovine leather entirely.

“In our 100th anniversary year, Demetra is a new category of material that encapsulates Gucci’s quality and aesthetic standards with our desire to innovate, leveraging our traditional skills and know-how to create for an evolving future,” CEO Marco Bizzarri said in a statement. “Demetra offers our industry an easily scalable, alternative choice and a more sustainable material that also answers the needs of animal-free solutions.”