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Mushroom Leather Is the Next Big Thing in Sustainable Fashion

Getty images/Hermès

It is rare, nowadays, for a high-end designer brand to truly shock shoppers with new collections, but Hermès managed to pull off the feat with a recent launch. The brand, known for its impeccable leather goods, will be releasing a travel bag made of…wait for it…mushrooms. Yes, the luxury label is investing in a sustainable and eco-friendly leather alternative made from mushrooms by the company MycoWorks. And Hermès is not the only household name brand going big on fungi-based products.

Stella McCartney, lululemon and Adidas have all announced partnerships with Bolt Threads, the innovative fabric-makers behind Mylo, yet another mushroom-based leather alternative, to help further develop the material and build up the supply chain necessary to produce it. Outside of the fashions sphere, Mercedes-Benz and Bentley are also on board with the eco-friendly materials and have begun making mushroom leather car seats in some new models. But what does the fabric actually feel like, and how sustainable is it really? We’ve got all the answers right here.


Getty Images/Bolt Threads

What is mushroom leather?

Mushroom leathers are a vegan alternative to both real leather and non-vegan synthetics and are made from mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus. What does that mean, you ask? It’s a somewhat complex process, but essentially mycelium cells are coaxed into forming durable fibers that look and feel like real leather. (It is obviously much more complicated, and if you really want to dive into the details both MycoWorks and Bolt Threads have more info available on their respective sites.) But the exciting thing here is that the benefits of mushroom leather go way beyond simply finding a realistic substitute for real leather—they’re also significantly better for the environment than both real leather production and basically all other faux-leather materials.

Is it Really better for the environment than real leather or other faux-leather options?

There is a lot of debate about the impact of leather, both real and faux, on the environment. Many alternative materials, including lots of vegan options, are oftentimes even more harmful than animal leathers. Much of the time, the processes required to make “vegan” leathers, especially the more affordable types, release so many chemicals and toxins into the environment that they end up doing harm to animal populations anyway.

Mushroom leather uses a fast-producing, natural resource that requires very little water or energy, making it a better option right from the start. But both MycoWorks and Bold Threads take extra steps to ensure the process as a whole lives up to strict, environmentally-focused standards, like using only renewable energy sources and growing/shaping the material in customizable trays that virtually eliminate scraps. Both companies have earned a slew of eco-friendly certifications, which do give solid indications to support the claims that mushroom leather really is better for the environment than other faux or real options. But for any lingering skeptics, a recent study published by a team lead by Dr. Alexander Bismarck, a materials scientist at the University of Vienna, found that the innovative new fabric really holds up both in terms of aesthetics and sustainability.

What does mushroom leather feel like IRL?

In short, it feels like real leather. But in much the same way that a luxury Hermès leather bag feels and wears different from a cheaper, but still real, leather design, there are variations depending on the type of mushroom leather involved, and how it’s treated while constructing the garment. And although present wear and durability tests look promising, the jury is still out on whether mushroom leather lasts as long as the real deal. But, on the flip side, mushroom leather is entirely biodegradable, which cannot be said for most vegan or faux-leather options.

Right now, there are limited products available to shop made from mushroom leathers, but with more brands, like Ganni and Merceds-Benz, signing on to innovate alongside manufacturers, it’s only a matter of time before the sustainable material is popping up left and right. And hopefully inside your closet as well.