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Mushroom Leather Zooms to Commercial Big Time

Hats off to mushroom leather.

On Monday, luxury hatmaker Nick Fouquet unveiled the first commercial products made with Reishi, a bovine alternative derived from the mycelium of a wood-decaying fungus.

A collaboration with California startup MycoWorks, the Reishi collection includes a bucket style, a straw topper and a curled-brim fedora that employ the material both in its entirety and as decorative trims. The pieces are available in limited quantities at NickFouquet.com, where they retail for between $810 to $1,750.

“Our clients want luxury made from materials that feel good and that they feel good about,” Fouquet said. “MycoWorks’ Reishi is the only leather alternative we’ve seen that matches the beauty, quality, and functionality of traditional leather. Reishi feels organic and rich, and has a beautiful, worn patina that we showcase through the distinct styles of our Reishi collection.”

MycoWorks says it can grow its Fine Mycelium to a designer’s precise specifications regarding hand feel, texture, strength and functionality. The material, it adds, is not only 100 percent animal-free but plastic-free as well. Unlike many biomaterials, Fine Mycelium doesn’t rely on petrochemicals during processing or finishing, meaning it’s completely biodegradable at the end of its life.

“We are elated that consumers can now wear and enjoy designs made with Reishi,” said Sophia Wang, co-founder and chief of culture at MycoWorks. “MycoWorks partners with craftspeople and brands with whom we share artistic values. This Reishi collection exhibits the unique hand feel and versatility of our material.”

Ganni Mylo leather
Ganni plans to phase out animal leather by 2023. Ganni

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Fouquet isn’t the only designer in the grips of mycelium mania. Last month, Ganni announced its first products—a capsule range of wallets and one-of-a-kind saddle bags—made with Bolt Threads’ Mylo, a fungal leather previously tapped by the likes of Adidas and Lululemon.

Its tie-up with Mylo, the Danish cool-girl brand said, is part of its journey toward phasing out animal leather by 2023. Ganni also works with Vegea, another ersatz cowhide derived from the stalks, skins and pips of grapes that are usually discarded during wine production.

“We have set a drastic goal of phasing out virgin leather by 2023 and seeing innovative materials like Mylo transform into high quality, high design products only makes me more ambitious on Ganni’s behalf,” said founder Nicolaj Reffstrup. “It’s our job to create responsible solutions that aren’t just at par with traditional product offerings but exceed them.”

The wallets are available for sale for 1,699 Danish kroner ($233) at Ganni’s flagship store in Copenhagen, where customers can sign up for the chance to win one of the saddle bags. Mylo is currently certified as 60 percent to 85 percent bio-based under the German DIN-Geprüft standard. The company previously told Sourcing Journal that it employs “some amount” of petrochemicals in the finishing process for performance reasons.

“Ganni has shown incredible leadership in responsible fashion, especially with its bold commitment to remove all virgin leather from their lines by next year,” said Bolt Threads CEO and founder Dan Widmaier. “Typically new material adoption can take 40+ years, but this move demonstrates that a future without ubiquitous leather is possible on a much shorter timeline. I hope others in the fashion industry take notice and recognize that now is the time to walk away from outdated materials.”

Stella McCartney Mylo Frayme
The Frayme Mylo is the world’s first luxury handbag made from mycelium leather. Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney’s own foray into shrooms, a Mylo-clad version of its Frayme bag, went on sale earlier this month. Previewed during the British luxury label’s Summer 2022 runway show at Paris Fashion Week last October, this “first drop” of the Frayme Mylo will comprise 100 pieces. The Frayme Mylo is exclusive to Stella McCartney boutiques and retails at 1,995 pounds ($2,394).

The company, which famously shuns leather, feathers, fur and exotic skins, previously rolled out the world’s first garments made from Mylo.

“It’s been an honor to partner so closely with Stella and her team as they break new ground in luxury fashion with Mylo,” Widmaier said. “Their category-defining leadership of animal-free fashion and championship of sustainable materials is paving a path forward toward a more responsible fashion industry. Bringing the first-ever luxury bag made from Mylo to market is a massive milestone for conscientious consumers, the biomaterials industry, and the future of luxury fashion.”

The shroom boom could spell big bucks for business at a time when interest in cruelty-free products and vegan lifestyles is at a high.

According to Lux Research, a Boston technology research firm, annual sales of “low-complexity” leather alternatives, including fruit- and vegetable-derived materials and recycled-material leathers, could reach $1 billion by 2025 if technological advances and consumer interest stay brisk. And if these mock materials can achieve scale and match the price of natural leather, they will “disrupt the leather industry,” senior research associate Tiffany Hua said.

“The ideal time to invest in alternative leathers is now,” Hua wrote in a market report last year. “There is ample opportunity for clients to spread their bets by partnering with near-term players and investing in disruptive long shots.”

Beyond mushrooms

Mycelium aside, brands have been experimenting with plant-based formulations they hope will win hearts and wallets alike. Last June, Gucci released sneakers made with Demetra, a material comprising viscose and wood pulp from sustainably managed forests and bio-based polyurethane derived from genetically unmodified European wheat and corn. Allbirds has thrown its support behind Natural Fiber Welding’s Mirum, which will receive “expanded access” through a new partnership with Veshin Factory, a vegan fashion manufacturer based in Costa Rica and Guangzhou.

“We are thrilled about our partnership with Veshin Factory. Through this collaboration, we are giving designers never-before-possible options for circular products and regenerative natural ingredient sourcing,” Luke Haverhals, CEO of Natural Fiber Welding, said earlier this month. “Together we are making room for complete circularity and creating access for brands who want to be more conscious and sustainable.”

The collaboration is meant to make it easier for brands to source, design, scale, and launch products using Natural Fiber Welding’s plastic-free platform, which creates leather-mimicking composites using agricultural waste such as cork powder, rice hulls and coconut fiber.

“Natural Fiber Welding’s plastic-free, low carbon, leather alternative Mirum is the last piece of the puzzle we have been waiting for at Veshin Factory,” Veshin Factory co-founder Joey Pringle said. “We know the challenges and catch-22s within the next-generation material space. Being able to offer a plastic-free alternative is exactly what the industry has been asking for.”