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MycoWorks Leather Alternative Gets $45 Million Vote of Confidence

Rivet's 2020 Denim Circularity report takes a deep dive into how the global denim industry is plotting its circular future amidst a worldwide pandemic.

Since its founding in 2013, MycoWorks has focused on helping fashion curb its harmful habit of using animal- and plastic-based materials to manufacture leather. Instead, the materials innovator opts to source from an unlikely origin—fungi. Now, with a newly raised $45 million in hand, the sustainable materials manufacturer is getting closer to bringing its alternative leather material, Reishi, to market.

To create Reishi, a class of sustainable material designed to perform like cowhide leather, MycoWorks developed its own proprietary process, in which sheets of Reishi’s interwoven fungi-based mycelium cells are grown to size and can be finely tuned as they’re cultivated. This process, called “Fine Mycelium” helps brand clients conceive of new design possibilities from the material construction stage up.

By tracing moments in the creation of each sheet of Reishi, MycoWorks’ “Fine Mycelium” experts, alongside in-house specialists and brand partners, can further refine a sheet’s structure and appearance, shaping desired outcomes in less than six weeks, the company says.

The Reishi sheets are then finished by traditional European tanneries with green, chrome-free chemistry. The MycoWorks team believes this finishing process is an example of how it can bring technological innovation to the traditional craftsmanship that is often essential to luxury fashion houses.

As a result, the end product is supposed to be stronger than cowhide leather, and just as durable. Mycoworks says that Reishi’s Tensile strength, which measures the force needed to pull a material to its breaking point, in units of Megapascals (MPa) is 10 MPa, ahead of the 8.5 MPa average from cowhide. And Reishi matches cowhide’s ability to last at 100,000 “cycles” each, meaning that both materials survive through at least 100,000 flexes or bends.

The material has even gained some traction in A-list circles, with celebrities such as Natalie Portman and John Legend participating in the investment round alongside several major fashion brands.

The funding announcement coincides with opening of MycoWorks’ third Reishi production plant in Emeryville, Calif., which has a production capacity of 80,000 square feet of material per year. This facility will be used to meet the demand for Reishi materials, and introduces proprietary systems enhancing productivity and allowing for further scaling of the business. MycoWorks says the new plant increases production capacity more than 10 times over and, together with the new funding, will pave the way for additional plants that are currently being designed and sited.

The growing demand for sustainable materials has been beneficial for companies that have successfully brought alternate solutions to the market. Market research firm Infinium Global Research predicted in a March report that the vegan leather market would be worth nearly $90 billion by 2025—looking at the viability of polyurethane, recycled polyester and bio-based leather alternatives across sectors.

Reishi, which the company says is neither a mushroom leather nor a vegan leather, is designed to evoke the same confidence and emotion that animal leathers do, while at the same time showcasing what MycoWorks calls an increase in strength, durability and hand feel in comparison to similar materials in the marketplace.

Many vegan leathers are still made from polymers that negatively impact the environment.

The company hasn’t announced any partnerships yet, but has indicated that the first luxury fashion and footwear products made with Reishi will be available in the coming months. Reishi is currently being rendered in several different types of leather goods such as sneakers, boots, ready-to-wear, bags and wallets.

Co-founders Phil Ross and Sophia Wang established MycoWorks because they saw sawdust from the logging industry as a useful material for growing new materials that could mimic animal byproducts or plastic.

The funding, co-led by WTT Investment Ltd. and DCVC Bio, is the company’s second major round of capital raised in two years, with MycoWorks reeling in $17 million in a Series A round last year. The round also included major participation from new investors Valor Equity Partners, Humboldt Fund, Gruss & Co. and others, and existing investors Novo Holdings, 8VC, SOSV, AgFunder, Wireframe Ventures, Tony Fadell and others.

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