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Fashion From Fungi: MycoWorks Raises $17M for Cruelty-Free Alt Leather

Your next pair of leather boots could be made from fungi, if San Francisco-based MycoWorks has anything to say about it.

The sustainable material manufacturer is responsible for Reishi, a material innovation that relies on mycelium—the vegetative structure of a fungus or bacterial colony—to replicate the qualities of natural leather.

On Tuesday, the company announced its raised $17 million in a 2019 Series A funding round led by DCVC Bio. Other major contributors included venture capital firms like Novo Holdings and 8VC, as well as Future Tech Labs, AgFunder, Susa Ventures, Cthulhu Ventures and Wireframe Ventures.

MycoWorks will leverage its new capital to bring its non-plastic, non-animal-based material to market as a viable alternative to natural leather or “pleather.”

According to a statement from the company, Reishi is already being used by multiple European luxury and footwear brands, and MycoWorks will be working to forge relationships throughout the industry to promote the use of its organic material free of animal cruelty. The investment will enable the company to scale its manufacturing operations to meet the growing demand for Reishi.

The company currently operates two production facilities, and is planning to open a third commercial plant with a production capacity of 80,000 square feet of material per year. The accelerated growth of production capabilities will support the launch of new products that have already been prototyped and tested with major luxury customers over the past 18 months.

“Animal leathers are synonymous with luxury and quality and, together with plastic leather alternatives, comprise a nearly $80 billion global market as a staple of fashion and many other industries,” MycoWorks said. “Evolving consumer tastes have not been met with any new natural materials that achieve the quality standards of the luxury industry.”

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The existing vegan leathers on the market are made from polymers, which are damaging to the environment and fail to replicate the aesthetic qualities or durability of traditional animal hides, the company said. By contrast, Reishi’s proprietary woven cellular microstructure emulates the organic collagen formation found in real leather.

“Just as alternatives to meat have recently taken the food industry by storm, consumers are also looking for natural, non-animal materials to wear,” MycoWorks CEO Matt Scullin said. “With its incredible aesthetics, feel and performance, Reishi is the result of an entirely new and scalable manufacturing process that fills a clear need in the market.

“As a natural material we’ve harnessed as an incredibly strong skin, Reishi is the only material that can meet the quality standards of animal leathers. We’re excited to continue to grow our operations to meet demand from our brand partners,” he added.

Large global luxury brands are currently lining up to bring Reishi-based products to market, DCVC Bio said. “MycoWorks meets the aspirations of luxury leather and meets the criteria for the new green economy,” Kiersten Stead, the firm’s managing partner, added.