MycoWorks has nabbed another fashion veteran.
The California startup, which makes leather alternatives using the thread-like root structure that sprouts mushrooms, announced Wednesday that Ian Bickley, former president of Coach International, has joined the company as a strategic advisor. Bickley follows the lead of erstwhile Hermès CEO Patrick Thomas, who was appointed to MycoWorks’ board of directors as an independent member in July.
Bickley met MycoWorks CEO Matt Scullin earlier this year and they started talking. He got a feel for Reishi, one of the materials the company makes from its patented Fine Mycelium. Before long, he was hooked. “It became clear to me that this was sort of the first sustainable alternative to animal leather that could also meet the very high performance and quality standards of the luxury goods industry,” Bickley, who also oversaw business development at Coach owner Tapestry, told Sourcing Journal.
It helped that Mike Todd, the firm’s chief of product, used to lead material strategy at Coach. “He was the person who developed all of our leathers with the tanneries and everything—an incredible craftsman in his own right,” Bickley said. “When I saw that Mike was involved with MycoWorks, I knew that this was the real deal.”
The work that MycoWorks has done with Hermès, which applied its own tanning and finishing processes to Fine Mycelium, creating the “hybrid of nature and technology” it dubs Sylvania, was another ringing endorsement. In March, the luxury house assembled a version of its Victoria bag using a mix of Sylvania, H Plume canvas and Evercalf calfskin.
“Here is one of the leading luxury goods brands that has set one of the highest standards for performance and quality for its products and has some of the most discerning consumers in the world,” Bickley said. “I think Hermès, as a leader, recognizing this innovation and the positive impact that it can have, is very powerful.”
Bickley said it’s still too early to define his role with MycoWorks, although he thinks his decades of experience building brands, along with his belief and passion for the company’s story, could be helpful as it reaches out to more brand customers. Sustainability, he noted, isn’t necessarily a driver in the purchase of luxury goods.
“I think that the performance of the material and the quality itself is still what discerning consumers are looking for, but they can still be conscious consumers and make a positive impact on the environment,” Bickley added. “MycoWorks has developed an animal-free process that allows a wide range of design possibilities, minimizes waste and creates consistent quality. All of these things are going to be a real competitive advantage.”
As much as Fine Mycelium is part of a boom in so-called “plant-based leathers”—though, as Scullin told a reporter, mushrooms are not plants but fungi—MycoWorks doesn’t want to frame its products merely as a sustainable substitute for cowhide. “We really are a new category of material,” Scullin told Sourcing Journal. “We’re this new way for designers and brands to tap into a material technology to create something new with all these efficiencies in the supply chain and is far more sustainable, of course, than what’s out there already.”
MycoWorks, which has a staff of 120 people, recently opened a plant in Emeryville, Calif. and expects to soon have more news on its next move. The cultivation process takes place in trays, where the root cells of a wood-decaying fungus called ganoderma are engineered to grow into dense, mat-like interlocking structures. The finished sheets can be customized to any thickness, weight or shape, minimizing offcuts and other waste.
Unlike many biomaterials, Fine Mycelium doesn’t require the use of petrochemicals during processing or finishing, which allows it to be completely biodegradable at the end of its life. Fungi also draw down rather than generate carbon dioxide, making Reishi and its ilk a better deal for a warming planet.
“Ian and I really connected on this idea of building the brand around a new category, and the experience that he brings is going to be invaluable to the company,” Scullin said. “I think we just continue to see a really strong market response to what we’re doing and Ian will be helpful in navigating that.”