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For Stella McCartney, Mushrooms Are the Future of Fashion

Not sold on the idea of fungal fashion? Don’t worry, it’ll grow on you.

Stella McCartney said as much at Paris Fashion Week on Monday, when she trotted out a succession of parachute parkas, textured mesh jumpers, fringed waistcoats and hand-smocked dresses inspired by morels, chanterelles and their spore-bearing ilk. In an introduction to the show, American mycologist Paul Stamets proclaimed mushrooms to be the future of fashion.

The pièce de résistance was a small half-moon clutch made of Mylo, the leather alternative that California’s Bolt Threads grows using mycelium, the “infinitely renewable” root filaments that sprout mushrooms. Paired with an aluminum chain strap, the Frayme Mylo is the first bag of its kind to feature in a runway show, McCartney said.

“For my summer 2022 collection, I was so inspired by fungi and their incredible potential for saving our planet—and the Frayme Mylo embodies that hope for the future,” the animal activist, who famously uses no leather, fur or feathers in her designs, said in a statement. “Our longtime partners at Bolt Threads and I have a shared passion for material innovation and launching a luxury handbag made from Mylo mycelium leather is a landmark moment not only for us, but the world. What you see on the runway today is the conscious fashion industry of tomorrow.”

Based on McCartney’s latest silhouette, the Frayme Mylo spotlights the potential of “this next-generation material” and is the first of many future commercial offerings, she said. Scientists at Bolt Threads, McCartney noted, have learned how to reproduce “what happens under the forest floor” in a lab to create Mylo using 100 percent renewable energy and far less time, land and water than raising cattle.

Stella McCartney and Bolt Threads have been partners for years. The first product created with Mylo was a prototype of McCartney’s Falabella bag, which debuted as part of a 2018 exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Last October, McCartney linked arms with Adidas, Kering and Lululemon to form the so-called Mylo consortium, with the aim of bringing products featuring the biomaterial to market. In March, McCartney unveiled what she billed as the world’s first luxury garments derived from Mylo: a black bustier top and a pair of trousers, constructed by arranging panels of the ersatz leather over recycled nylon scuba, that combined an “avant-garde perspective with an athleticism.”

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Stella McCartney's Mylo-leather-made Frayme bag on the Paris Fashion Week runway.
Stella McCartney’s Mylo-leather-made Frayme bag on the Paris Fashion Week runway. Courtesy

Unlike the garments, which served as proof of concept, the Mylo Frayme will be available for sale, albeit in a limited rollout of 100 to begin with. But Stella McCartney is still ahead of other members of the consortium. While Lululemon will be selling two yoga bags featuring Mylo in its woven handles and braided pulls in early 2022, Adidas’s mycelium-clad Stan Smith is still being prototyped and will be available only “in the near future.” Kering has so far been mum about its progress, although Gucci, one of its subsidiaries, unveiled in June a proprietary cowhide alternative derived from upward of 77 percent plant-based materials.

Still, mushroom leather’s proponents are taking a long-term view. Consumers are increasingly swerving away from animal-based materials, they say. In a recent survey by the Material Innovation Institute, 80 percent of U.S. respondents were open to non-animal leather while 55 percent actively preferred “next-gen alternatives.” Enthusiasm for biomaterials was higher in China, where 90 percent of those polled said they preferred next-gen alternatives to the real McCoy. If technological advances keep up with consumer interest, annual sales of “low-complexity” leather alternatives made from plants, fungi and leather waste could surpass $1 billion by 2025, according to Lux Research, a Boston technology research firm.

Petrochemicals remain an albatross for several leather alternatives, undermining their claims of being better for the planet. Bolt Threads says, however, that it limits the amount it uses in finishing and that Mylo is currently certified as 60 percent to 85 percent bio-based under the German DIN-Geprüft standard. Mylo isn’t biodegradable, but the company previously told Sourcing Journal that it continues to work toward that goal.

“With good reason, consumers are demanding sustainable material alternatives that also look and feel great,” said Dan Widmaier, founder and CEO of Bolt Threads. “Working closely with Stella and her team of innovative designers has enabled us to make Mylo a no-compromise, animal-free alternative to leather. The Frayme Mylobag is a huge milestone for sustainable fashion, making better material options accessible to consumers all around the world.”