Fungi: The Unexpected Fashion Icon

Fungi in Fashion

The fashion industry has always been one that is involved with pushing the boundaries of what is both accepted and possible. The environmental impact of the fashion industry is often called into question, with many brands now specifically focusing on pushing the possibilities of sustainability, in an attempt to distance themselves from companies who have a reputation of ‘not caring’. 

Whilst flowers and nature have for a long time been a regular feature in fashion, mushrooms and fungi have previously been neglected but are now starting to come into the limelight. Emerging technologies are now allowing for the manipulation of mycelium into a viable leather alternative. Leather has been a contentious issue within the fashion industry for a long time, due to the environmental impact that cattle farming has on the world. A number of vegan alternatives have appeared over the years but none have come close to the durability and overall performance of real leather, however this is now all changing. Fashion is certainly a space where limitations inspire innovation.

What has changed?

There has clearly been a lot of recent focus on sustainability and the possibly irreversible damage that our planet is facing. With protests and climate change conferences now becoming a regular feature of life, a real breakthrough has been found in the development of controllable mycelium, which can be tailor grown to suit the needs of the designer, who will ultimately be working with the product. 

Mycelium is the underground network that maintains the ‘fruiting body’ of the mushroom, which grows above the ground. The mushroom itself is akin to a flower, which only appears temporarily, with the mycelium being a permanent feature that is extremely important for environmental regrowth and sustainability. Mycelium is the branching, thread-like roots that love underneath the soil, nourishing plant life. Mycelium is an ecological connective tissue that communicates with the plant life around it and has grown under our feet for billions of years. The largest known living organism is actually a mycelium mat, which occupies a total of 965 hectares in Oregon.

Two US based companies have now developed mycelium leather technologies, collaborating with a number of well known fashion brands to increase awareness of and bring the potential of mycelium to the general public. The concepts create controlled and sustainable mycelium growth, which can be tailored to a brands specifications (durability, shape and texture, to name a few), forming tightly wound threads, which mimic collagen based animal leather. Through further processing, this mycelium network is turned into a sheet of material that resembles cork but is much thinner and more flexible. This is then tanned and dyed by the same tanneries that work with animal leathers to form the workable leather alternative.


Mycelium Collaborations 

The two companies, who are currently developing mycelium leather technologies have collaborated with a number of high profile fashion brands, creating a great amount of interest in the products throughout the fashion world;

  • Bright Sparks Mylo™ announces creation of fashion consortium 

At the start of October, materials solutions company Bright Sparks announced the formation of a breakthrough consortium with iconic global companies who have secured exclusive access to its innovative material, Mylo™.  The companies have all committed seven figure investments to the company in an ongoing commitment to develop materials and products for a more sustainable future. The investments have been made in a bid to scale up the experimental material, making it available for consumers. The consortium features; Stella Mcartney, Adidas, Lululemon and Kerring (the parent company of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen).  

  • Stella McCartney 

Stella McCartney has, since the inception of her clothing brand, been dedicated to sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion, as the first luxury fashion house to never use leather, feathers, fur or skins. Seemingly a perfect fit for a brand pushing the boundaries of sustainability, Stella created the first mycelium based garments from Mylo™, in March 2021. Whilst the two piece outfit is still a concept that will not be available for purchase, the Frame Mylo Handbag saw a limited release earlier this year. They have both been designed to show the potential of mycelium leather.

  • Adidas 

Adidas, who have actually partnered previously with Stella Mcartney, to make a vegan leather shoe, are the first footwear brand to enter the mycelium leather market. They have created a concept of their Stan Smith silhouette, created from Mylo™.  Adidas have added that they do hope to bring the shoe to consumers, eventually making a version available for purchase. 

  • Lululemon

Lululemon are a premium athletic brand, who bring innovative and proprietary fabrics to their consumers. They have announced their collaboration with Bright Sparks after unveiling a meditation and yoga collection in July 2021, using natural products, from the earth to truly ground the body during yoga. The collection includes a meditation and yoga mat bag and barrel duffel bag, which the brand made available for purchase in early 2022. In addition they have announced a concept yoga mat, made entirely from un-dyed Mylo™.

  • Kering

Kering, who are the parent company of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, have also joined the consortium, although they are yet to release any details of Mylo™ product lines.

Lululemon Yoga Mat Bag

Lululemon Yoga Mat & Bag

  • Mycoworks launch Fine Mycelium™ made with Reishi™

  • The second company to enter the mycelium leather market is Mycoworks, who have launched their Fine Mycelium™ brand, through an exclusive collaboration with luxury fashion house, Hermes. 

  • Hermes 

    In a partnership that has been developed over the last three years, Hermes will be reimagining their Victoria bag, using the leather alternative. The bag will be available from the end of this year and features amber-coloured panels made of fine tuned mycelium.  Unveiled in March, the company will be the first brand to use the patented Fine Mycelium™ technology, which enhances mycelium as it grows, allowing for personalisation and less post growth processing. 

  • Nick Fouquet

  • Luxury hat maker to the stars, Nick Fouquet, has created hats for the likes of everyone from Nicolas Cage to Lebron James. He has now joined the Mycoworks revolution, adding a trio of Made with Reishi™ hats to his latest collection. Available online, two of the hats feature Fine Mycelium™ trim, whilst the other, an all purpose mycelium bucket hat, is the first to utilise the patented mushroom technology throughout.

  • Allen St.

  • Whilst many of the initial mycelium and mushroom based fashion releases have been small scale, exclusive drops, Mycoworks have now collaborated with Parisian brand, Allen St., to create a range of more easily accessible, Fine Mycelium based products, that are now available for purchase on their website. Mycoworks' pioneering product, Reishi™, is a new category of natural material that offers the performance, quality and hand feel of the finest animal leathers, with lower environmental impact. Allen St. have introduced 6 products, including a; wallet, cardholder, laptop and key sleeve, crossbody bum bag, and tote bag to highlight this new material. It is the first time items Made with Reishi™ are available in Europe. The beginning of a revolution.

    Allen St. Mycelium Wallet

    Allen St. Reishi™ Wallet

    Fungi at Fashion Week

    Fungi have been a feature at both the most recent London and Paris Fashion Weeks, with Paul Stamets, the most respected mycologist in the world being mentioned as the inspiration to Eirinn Hayhow’s Magic Mushroom Collection. The collection featured natural dyes, which Eirinn created through foraging plants and berries, whilst everything has been created from salvaged cotton and sustainable fibres such as pineapple leather and hemp fibres. 

    Stella Mcartney’s recent show at Paris Fashion Week, actually featured an introductory soundtrack, featuring Paul Stamets. Here he stated that “in fashion, mushrooms are the future”. The spring collection clearly has fungi in mind throughout and even featured a mycelium based bag, which will be limited to 100 pieces. The Frayme Mylo bag, which was released in July 2022, whilst being an exclusive collection, marked the first release of ‘the future of fashion’, a truly luxury bag, made through mushrooms over leather.

    At Alexander McQueen’s, first fashion show in New York since 1999, the word of the day was mycelium: the magical underground world of mushroom roots that connect the living organisms of nature. “It’s very topical at the moment, and what I really love is the way that trees talk to each other and heal each other, and the way that they work together as a creative community,” Burton said backstage after the show.

    “Mycelium connects even the rooftop of the tallest skyscraper to the plants, to the grass, to the ground, to animals and to human beings,” said Burton. “Mycelium has the most profound, interconnecting power, relaying messages through a magical underground structure, allowing trees to reach out to each other when either they or their young need help or are sick. The idea is humbling – beautiful - and, of course, a metaphor for interconnection and for community between people, between us all.” 

    Alexander McQueen Mushroom Collection

    Alexander McQueen Mushroom Collection

    It is clear then that mushrooms and mycelium have a crucial role to play in sustainability in not only the fashion industry (with many major players taking note), but in the global efforts for a sustainable future, offering a potential answer to not only clothing and packaging but also in response to the issues surrounding plastic pollution (with some fungi touted with the ability to break down un-recyclable plastics).

    Feature Image; Creative Direction by MycoWorks, Photography by Aysia Stieb