Made of fungi, mycelium hits market as green substitute for leather, plastic

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

This past week, British fashion designer Stella McCartney unveiled a black “leather” bustier top and pants made not from cow hide, but mycelium — which is grown from fungi. 

Up until now, if you wanted leather that wasn't made from animals, you've probably had to settle for plastic “pleather,” which comes with a different set of environmental problems.

But a number of big brands, including Stella McCartney, Adidas, Lululemon and Hermes, in partnership with biotechnology startups Bolt Threads and MycoWorks, say later this year you'll be able to buy more products with leather made from another bio-based material that's grown by recycling waste.

Mycelium is already on the market in the form of styrofoam-like packaging, “un-leather” handbags, flooring and sound-proofing acoustic panels. It's also been experimentally used to build larger structures such as benches, coffins, composting toilets and even buildings.

But manufacturers are now aiming to scale up the products and applications made from mycelium, which they tout as a more sustainable substitute for petroleum-derived plastics such as styrofoam and vinyl, leather made with harsh chemicals from water-guzzling, methane-belching cows and even other bio-based materials such as cardboard and wood.

  • Fungi offers promise of medical cures, cleaner garbage and better beer

  • Q&A

    Why fungi could be the future of environmentally sustainable building materials

In the future, they say it could even be used to make advanced materials such as transparent “paper” or construct buildings that can be triggered to automatically biodegrade at the end of their useful life.

Introducing the world’s first garments innovated from Mylo™️, a vegan mushroom leather created in partnership with @BoltThreads. Mylo™️ is a soft and sustainable, made from infinitely renewable mycelium.

Discover #StellaxMylo: #StellaMcCartney


What is mycelium?

Mycelium is made of fungi. While you may think of them as plants, they technically aren't and are more closely related to animals. (Fungi and animals are in different “kingdoms” but the same “supra-kingdom,” while plants are in a different supra-kingdom.)

You might associate fungi with mushrooms, but mycelium is a different part of the fungus — its fast-growing network of roots, rather than the compact fruits we know as mushrooms.

What makes mycelium more sustainable than the materials it replaces?

Those who use mycelium tout its low environmental footprint as its biggest advantage.

Dan Widmaier, CEO of California-based Bolt Threads, said that among the brands that work with his company, 70 per cent of their environmental impact comes from the materials they use.

“Broadly speaking, those materials have to change if there's going to be eight billion of us and counting on the planet,” Widmaier said.

Bolt Threads says its mycelium-based leather, Mylo, emits fewer greenhouse gases and uses less water and resources than animal leather.

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

Alexander Bismarck, a professor of materials chemistry, and Mitchell Jones, a postdoctoral researcher at the Technical University of Vienna, have studied the sustainability of fungi-derived leather substitutes

They note that in nature, fungi help soils capture and store carbon through their symbiotic relationships with plants, making their growth “effectively carbon neutral.” When grown to make mycelium-based materials, they can upcycle waste such as food and agricultural residues without the heating that's usually required for manufacturing processes.

That's in contrast to raising cattle, which is known to consume and pollute water, use lots of land and generate greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change at a higher rate than most other domestic animals. With leather, lots of potentially harmful chemicals and energy are also used to tan the hides. 

Bismarck said compared to such animal-based materials — as well as plastics — mycelium-based products provide “a significant reduction in CO2 or greenhouse gas.”

Mycelium has even been suggested as a replacement for other bio-based materials, such as cardboard, wood or bioplastics. Jones said even many of those have negative environmental impacts, such as the need to cut down trees or limited biodegradability. “The fungi doesn't really have that downside.”

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

What can you buy now that's made of mycelium?

Over the past decade or so, biotechnology companies have launched a small number of mycelium-based products such as:

  • Packaging, designed to replace styrofoam, from New York-based Ecovative Design. It's now produced by manufacturing partners in the U.S., U.K., Europe and New Zealand. Dell Technologies and IKEA are among those who have committed to using it.

  • Coffins made by Dutch startup Loop that are not only biodegradable but also help biodegrade the bodies laid to rest inside.

  • Flooring and acoustic tiles, which are sold by Italian interior design products firm Mogu. 

  • Leather. MYCL, based in Bandung, Indonesia, partnered with local apparel brand BRODO, to launch sneakers, sandals, wallets, luggage tags and watch straps made of its mycelium-based leather Mylea last year.

Two U.S. competitors aim to make mycelium-based leather more widely available this year. 

  • Bolt Threads (which licensed its initial technology from Ecovative) was supposed to deliver its first product made of Mylo, the Driver bag, to Kickstarter backers late last year, but delivery was delayed after the batch produced by its manufacturing partner didn't meet quality standards. The company also announced in October that it would partner with Adidas, Kering, Lululemon and Stella McCartney to launch Mylo products in 2021. (The items unveiled by Stella McCartney this week aren't yet available for sale.)

  • San Francisco-based MycoWorks announced earlier this month that it had partnered with luxury brand Hermes to make a version of the Victoria bag that will be the first product using a mycelium-based leather called Sylvania.

How is mycelium produced and turned into new materials and products?

Step one is obviously to grow it. That can be done either in a nutritious liquid or on a bed of solid materials. Either can include waste products ranging from blackstrap molasses to sawdust from furniture production.

What's suitable depends on the fungal species, which can be found in different habitats in the wild, said Joe Dahmen, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture, who has been working with mycelium-based materials for several years.

For example, oyster mushrooms, which he works with, grow on hardwood trees but not conifers. Some of the materials used commercially include cotton fibres or hemp hurds, the inner cores of the stems.

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

The fungi also need water and nutrients, and they're generally kept in humidity- and temperature-controlled environments to prevent them from producing mushrooms — a completely different material that can also generate potentially irritating spores. Fruiting typically happens when the fungi think it's autumn, Dahmen said. 

Fungi are fast-growing — it takes just a week to grow mycelium for Mushroom Packaging and two weeks for Mylo, their manufacturers say. They're often grown with high levels of CO2 to encourage them to grow outward in search of oxygen.

Once ready, the mycelium is usually dehydrated and processed with machines and chemicals to improve the density, strength, elasticity and texture.

All that means mycelium-based materials generally aren't pure mycelium, but a “composite,” Bismarck noted. They contain the material it was grown on along with anything added during processing.

Widmaier said that's part of the “secret sauce” for Mylo. “We start with the mycelium, and then we do everything from making sure it doesn't rot to making sure it's finished appropriately and it's got the right colour.”

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

Is the fungus still alive and can it keep growing within products?

For most commercial products (except for coffins), the mycelium is heat treated long before it reaches the customer in order to kill it, maintain the product's intended form and eliminate the risk that it could form mushrooms and allergens such as spores.

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

That said, some designers, such as Dahmen and his wife, Amber Frid-Jimenez, Canada Research Chair in Design and Technology at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, have experimented with living fungi.

“As architects and designers, we were really interested in the idea of a material that might aggregate and continue to grow once it was in the shape or form of whatever it was we were designing to,” said Dahmen, who has a design studio with Frid-Jimenez called AFJD.

They once built a wall at the Museum of Vancouver that consisted of individual mycelium bricks that were left alive and eventually fused together.

“So you could imagine a kind of building technology that can kind of evolve and continue to grow, you know — sort of magical, in a way,” he said.

In 2016, they created benches made from mycelium that included a space in the middle for mushrooms to fruit. They remained in use on campus for several months.

Generally, in normal indoor or outdoor conditions, they dry out and become inert. “But that doesn't mean they can't reawaken later,” he said.

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

That means it might be possible to engineer a building made with inert, mycelium-based materials that can be triggered to decompose or self-demolish at the end of the building's useful life. “In the right conditions, they might reawaken and start digesting the materials and finish the building.” 

What else could mycelium be used for in the future?

Both Dahmen and Bismarck say it has a lot of potential as a building material — to replace foam insulation, for example.

Its insulating abilities have prompted Dahmen to use mycelium to create a biodegradable composting toilet for refugee camps that traps heat to speed up decomposition by heat-loving bacteria. After use, it can simply be buried. Dahmen is even playing around with integrating seeds into it so “basically you're kind of converting the excrement into a flower bed at the end.”  

Bismarck and Jones have been experimenting with ways to make more advanced materials from mycelium. For example, they have found that by growing it in a mineral-rich environment, they can create mineralized, fire-resistant insulation panels.

coffins, buildings, @StellaMcCartney, Dell Technologies,  IKEA , licensed its initial technology from Ecovative, delivery was delayed, announced in October, announced earlier this month, except for coffins

While most current mycelium products are composites that include agricultural or wood fibres, the researchers are also trying to create “nanomaterials” with pure fungi selected for their extra-fine fibres.

Those can be processed in a blender with some chemicals into interesting materials such as transparent, paper-like sheets. The mycelium paper can be made 10 times stronger than regular paper or designed to filter viruses or heavy metals from water.

One of the applications they're testing right now is mycelium-based wound dressings, which can help reduce bleeding, keep bacteria out and accelerate healing.

“It's simply incredible what a fungus can do,” Bismarck said, adding that there are an estimated 5.1 million types of fungi out there, many with untapped potential. “It's still a vast space of biology that can do something for you.”

News Related


7 trends to know from fashion week Fall 2021

This season, fashion week went almost entirely digital. In place of elaborate runway shows and intimate presentations, designers and brands held shows without a live audience and released lookbooks, short ... Read more »

How to machine wash your parka at home properly

For many of us, our winter coat is the one garment we're wearing every day during the cold-weather months; and often, it's also one of the priciest pieces in our ... Read more »

Really good rain gear: 10 picks to help you stay stylish and dry on your outdoor adventures

In the battle of denim jacket versus rainstorm, most of us know from experience what the outcome will be. Whereas in the past we might have been okay with the ... Read more »

Pro-tips for making your home haircut or fade look, well, pro

There's still no telling just how long we'll need to stay at home. Uncertainty continues to swirl. But one thing is for sure, right about now those bangs are edging ... Read more »

Tie dye tips from pros for creating contemporary looks with any piece in your wardrobe

Tie dye has been experiencing a resurgence in fashion for several years now, for everything from workwear to loungewear. And it's a trend that is not going anywhere soon. Throughout ... Read more »

Seasonal skincare: How to transition your beauty routine from winter to spring

This article was originally published April 10, 2019 and was updated April 7, 2021 to reflect current product pricing. With the days getting longer and the weather gradually heating up, ... Read more »

So you want to colour your hair at home? We asked pros for their best tips

You may be wary of colouring your hair at home (especially if you have some  failed experiments from your teen years under your belt). Of all of the DIY beauty ... Read more »

The standout beauty trends to bank on from fashion week Fall 2021

For this mostly virtual fashion week, backstage beauty content took an extended hiatus. Even some brands that showed traditionally last fall opted to go audience-free this season, or strictly digital. ... Read more »

What's next in fashion after a year of sweatsuits? Trend forecasters share their predictions

After more than a year of sweatsuits, loungewear and decidedly more relaxed wardrobe choices, what fashion may look like this spring and beyond is a bit of a mystery.  As ... Read more »

Mi'kmaw artists use Nike high-tops to bring beadwork to next generation

The past stepped into the present amid piles of beads in Millbrook First Nation this weekend. Mi'kmaw artists Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade and husband Garrett Gloade welcomed young people into a beading workshop ... Read more »

How the Nike Go FlyEase upended the world of adaptive fashion

Louie Lingard is a sneakerhead. He's been one, he says, for years — New Balance, Reebok, Adidas, he likes them all, though Nike is his favourite.  But despite his interest, ... Read more »

Why Indigenous youth are raising awareness of MMIWG with every stitch of a ribbon skirt

The symbol of the red dress has become synonymous with the crisis of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It's why a grassroots group of Indigenous youth are making ... Read more »

Dell, HPE, Nutanix fight for hyperconverged lead in HCI market

Hyperconverged infrastructure is becoming the dominant solution for organisations seeking to create a true hybrid cloud environment due to its ability to quickly build a private cloud, extend to public ... Read more »

Armed with certified partners, Dell prioritises ‘winning in the data centre’

Dell Technologies is pressing ahead with plans to “win in the data centre” across Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ), armed by a skilled up partner ecosystem and enhanced portfolio of infrastructure ... Read more »

Nom, nom, Vietnam - Episode 90: Stir-fried noodles

Stir-fried crispy noodles is a very popular Chinese dish in HCM City. The way the rich, savoury sauce soaks into the crispy fried noodles makes the meal simply irresistible! Read more »

Tiên Sơn Cave, a hidden gem in Phong Nha – Kẻ Bàng complex

A part of Tiên Sơn Cave. Photo HCM CITY Tiên Sơn Cave belongs to the Phong Nha – Kẻ Bàng tourist complex that comprises natural scenic spots in the ... Read more »

Try goat meat specialties in Ba Vì District

A dish of Ba Vì’s goat meat. Photo HCM CITY Meats from goat, hill chicken and ostrich are the must-try dishes in Ba Vì District in Hà Nội. Tourists ... Read more »

HCM City considers museum system to boost tourism

MDIS’s School of Engineering and Technology introduces more programmes to meet the increasing demand in the IT and engineering streams. — VNS Photo HCM CITY – HCM City needs to ... Read more »

Young indie bands are top trendsetters in Vietnam's music scene

Indie bands like Cá Hồi Hoang (Wild Salmon) and Chillies are receiving more attention from fans and media. This kind of music has brought new sounds to the Vietnamese contemporary ... Read more »

Meditation and Mindfulness as a Way of Dealing with Stress

Psychologist Matthew Ryan. — Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice by Matthew Ryan* In the first session, Tom complained of insomnia, restlessness and “worrying about everything”. His partner Julie looked ... Read more »

Try seafood specialties in Cà Mau

A dish of mud creeper with coconut milk. Photo HCM CITY Mudskippers grilled with chili salt and mud creepers with coconut milk are one of the best seafood specialties ... Read more »

Vietnam draw Lebanon in first leg of Futsal World Cup playoffs

Their first leg of Futsal World Cup playoffs with Lebanon was goalless, but it gave Vietnam an edge going into the second leg. Read more »

Fashion industry struggles to stay afloat amid Covid

To survive the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vietnamese fashion industry is resorting to online sales and creating affordable clothes. Read more »

South Korean League of Legends pro joins Vietnamese team

Kim "Poss" Min-cheol has joined Vietnam's Cerberus Esports, set to become the first foreign League of Legends (LoL) player in the country. Read more »

Tuyền secures Việt Nam's eighth Olympic berth

Trương Thị Kim Tuyền of Việt Nam (right) tries to kick Fariza Aldangorova of Kazakhstan during their semi-finals of the women’s U49kg category at the Asian Qualification Tournament for Tokyo ... Read more »

Taekwondo athlete secures Vietnam another Tokyo Olympic slot

Taekwondo star Truong Thi Kim Tuyen has become the ninth Vietnamese to book a berth to the Tokyo Olympics this summer after entering the finals of the qualifiers. Read more »

Health workers face toughest pandemic battle yet

The fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, starting from April 27, is considered the most severe in Việt Nam since the pandemic began. Doctors of Huế Central Hospital check the conditions ... Read more »

All About Photo Awards honours Vietnamese photographer

Heart of the Sea’ by Nguyễn Phước Hoài. HÀ NỘI — A photograph depicting an aerial scene of fishermen casting their nets on the sea taken by Vietnamese photographer Nguyễn ... Read more »

Goalies Lâm and Trường compete for national team starting spot

Goalkeeper Bùi Tấn Trường is competing for a starting spot in the national team. — Photo HÀ NỘI — Bùi Tấn Trường and Đặng Văn Lâm are competing to ... Read more »

Three Vietnamese teams to compete in PUBG Mobile Pro League

Eagle Esports, HVNB and Infinity IQ will represent Vietnam at PUBG Mobile Pro League (PMPL) Southeast Asia Championship Season 3 this month. Read more »

Three Vietnamese teams to compete in PUBB Mobile Pro League

Eagle Esports, HVNB and Infinity IQ will represent Vietnam at PUBG Mobile Pro League (PMPL) Southeast Asia Championship Season 3 this month. Read more »

Hidden world of Japanese maikos revealed through photo collection

Together with geisha and geiko, maikos have been considered as symbol successors of the beauty of Japan. Photos courtesy of L’Espace HÀ NỘI — A photo collection depicting Japan’s apprentice ... Read more »

Photo contest featuring labourers launched

A photo by Nguyễn Ngọc Hải submitted to a photo contest Nét Đẹp Lao Động (The Beauty of Labour) launched by the HCM City-based Người Lao Động (Labourer) newspaper. The ... Read more »

Key goalkeeper to join national team early for World Cup qualifiers

Dang Van Lam's club Cerezo Osaka has agreed to let him off early to prepare for Vietnam's important World Cup qualifiers. Read more »

Biennial World Cup on agenda at FIFA Congress

A World Cup held every two years is set to be discussed by football's bigwigs on Friday when FIFA holds its latest Congress. Read more »

Uncle Hồ’s memorial space opens at Children Cultural House

Children visit the memorial space themed “Uncle Hồ with Children” at the HCM City Children Cultural House. Photo courtesy of the organisers HCM CITY — A memorial space themed “Uncle ... Read more »

'Vietnam Idol' winner releases music video of hit song

Singer Uyên Linh seen to perform the song ‘Giữa Đại Lộ Đông Tây’ in the show Xuân Hạ Thu Đông Rồi Lại Xuân (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring again). ... Read more »

Two exhibitions highlight landscapes of Italy and VN

Photos highlight the evolution of the glacial masses, underlining the effects of climate change on the mountain landscape in Italy. Photo courtesy of the organiser HCM CITY — The Consulate ... Read more »

Romance is alive and kicking

MAGIC MOMENT: Liverpool players mob goalkeeper Alisson Becker after his last-minute winner against West Brom. AFP Photo Paul Kennedy There’s a great line in the movie Moneyball when Billy Beane, ... Read more »

Phan Văn Đức signs record deal with Nghệ An after turning HCM City FC down

Phan Văn Đức (left) will stay at Sông Lam Nghệ An until the end of the 2024 season. Photo VINH Việt Nam national team forward Phan Văn Đức signed ... Read more »