Mushroom-based leather positioned as revolutionary, sustainable material

A Victoria-series Boston bag by Hermes using mushroom leather called Sylvania in the brown parts.

We continue to hear many news stories about sustainable materials even in the year 2022.

Even in the fashion industry, in which news on collaborations are still as rife as ever, there are an equal amount of stories about sustainable materials and products.

It seems fast fashion companies are particularly keen to share such news in an attempt to recover from their tarnished reputations after being criticized for generating large quantities of trash through their rampant production of cheap clothing. Such companies often use inexpensive polyester that produces toxic gases when incinerated. There are also sweatshop problems (encouraging illegal labor, unfair labor practices) in developing countries.

Amid such backlash, there came news about a material that could revolutionize materials for fashion: mushroom-based leather.

Fur and leather are important materials for fashion, but they represent a lack of sustainability and are seen as problematic from the viewpoint of animal welfare. For example, popular designer Stella McCartney, a strict vegan, has declared she will use no fur, leather, silk or lamb wool, and she has been true to the policy. Instead, she designs fabric tote bags instead of leather handbags. Mushroom-based leather, however, is a revolutionary sustainable material that even a designer like McCartney could be happy to use.

The best aspect of mushroom-based leather is that it can be produced in a matter of weeks, while it takes several years for animals to grow. In other words, there is no problem, quantity-wise. Moreover, mushrooms produce dramatically less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, meaning there are much fewer adverse effects from such gases compared to what animals such as cattle produce.

Courtesy of adidas Japan
A Stan Smith Mylo sneaker by adidas

Mushroom-based leather also requires none of the chemicals used to process animal leather that are harmful to the environment. There are only positives. The biggest problem seems to have been how to create a smooth texture that mimics animal leather.

While called mushroom leather, it is actually made by extracting a leather-like element from mycelium, or multi-branching thread-like parts from which mushrooms sprout. This fine mycelium technology was developed by MycoWorks, a start-up based in San Francisco. The company suddenly drew attention when Hermes, which has collaborated with the company since 2017, produced its first merchandise using the technology. It seems Hermes — which started out as a small equestrian equipment workshop — has found a good match in MycoWorks, an entity that pays respects to the blessings of nature, and is seeking the best material possible.

The mushroom leather jointly developed by both companies is called Sylvania. A Boston bag will go on sale as part of the 2022 spring and summer collection of Hermes’ popular Victoria series, becoming its first merchandise that uses the material.

Another major company adopting mushroom-based leather is sporting brand adidas. The athletic brand has adopted Mylo, a mushroom leather developed by Bolt Threads (a start-up in Emeryville, Calif.), for its popular Stan Smith sneaker series. The product, called Stan Smith Mylo, will go on sale this spring. Traditionally, when people talked about sustainable material for sneakers, that often meant recycled knit material. Using mushroom leather for sneakers, therefore, is quite innovative.

Bolt Threads has also formed a strategic partnership regarding Mylo with Stella McCartney, lululemon and Kering, which owns high-end fashion brands such as Gucci, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent. Since handbags are top-earning products for luxury brands, it is high time they seriously sought substitutes for calf skin and other animal-derived materials. Such incentives are being widely seen in their recent moves.