MycoWorks was founded in 2013 to develop a replacement product for leather that would be kinder to the environment and usher in a more eco-friendly path for fashion.
Most recently, the Emeryville, Calif., company has been working in a nearby semi-automated pilot plant, which recently produced a record 10,000 trays of processed product made from interwoven fungi-based mycelium cells.
Now a newly announced $125 million investment will enable the Bay Area startup to develop its first full-scale facility in Union County, S.C., which will be modeled after the pilot plant. In 2020, MycoWorks raised $17 million and $45 million rounds in rapid succession.
The new factory should be up and running in one year, annually mass-producing several million square feet of the company’s patented Fine Mycelium materials, MycoWorks representatives said. The company’s flagship product is Reishi.
“There is a huge consumer demand for sustainable materials. That’s why this is a $150 billion opportunity,” MycoWorks CEO Matt Scullin said. “This is why this latest financing is so important because it will allow us to scale to meet this incredible demand we are seeing.”
The $125 million in Series C funding was led by Prime Movers Lab along with new investors SK Networks and Mirabaud Lifestyle Impact & Innovation Fund in addition to new and existing investors.
“MycoWorks makes the only product that we have found that resembles animal leather’s quality, and they are producing it on a highly scalable platform,” said Ho Jeong Lee, executive vice president of SK Networks. “We are excited to partner to manufacture Fine Mycelium materials on a global scale.”
MycoWorks did an exhaustive nationwide search for a factory location before settling on South Carolina, which was selected because of the area’s local manufacturing culture, Scullin said. While he would not go into detail about the size or cost of the facility, he did say it would eventually employ 400 workers.
Meanwhile, the pilot plant in Emeryville will remain in operation while the new factory is being built. “Once we are operational in South Carolina and building additional locations, it will continue to serve as our R&D center,” Scullin added.
Plant-based alternatives to leather have increasingly been incorporated by leading fashion brands to meet consumers’ desire for eco-friendly animal-free alternatives.
Last year, Lululemon developed a duffel bag and a yoga mat bag using animal-free leather from California rival Bolt Threads’ vegan-certified Mylo. A few years ago, Balenciaga launched a new vegan leather sneaker called the Zen Sneaker.
And British designer Stella McCartney was an early user of leather alternatives for a number of creations, including a black bustier top and a handbag. In 2018, she partnered with Adidas to release an eco-sensitive Stan Smith trainer.
At MycoWorks, founded by Philip Ross and Sophia Wang, fashion brands can select and customize the thickness, weight, hand and drape of the product, which helps increases traceability and reduces waste and post processing.
Last year, MycoWorks announced its first partnership with luxury label Hermès to produce the Victoria bag, and subsequently recruiting a Hermès and Coach veterans to its board. The company said it has a list of dozens of customers who want to use its new product.
“What MycoWorks has achieved with its Fine Mycelium platform is not just a breakthrough, it is a revolution for industries that are ripe for a change,” said David Siminoff, general partner at Prime Mover Labs. “This opportunity is massive.”