One of the world’s most purchased products are those containing animal leather; a mercilessly-gained material that is the key to an $80 billion industry which focuses on raising animals, an aspect that is known to be contributing to CO2 emissions and toxic chemicals. Mushroom leather is a vegan alternative that was first investigated in 2012.
Product designers Phillip Ross and Jonas Edvard began toying with the idea of homeware products made from mycelium. This leather-alternative can show a reduction in the requirement for industrial animal agriculture which is the leading supplier of animal leather for fashion. The products constructed from mushroom leather are lightweight and have a naturally insulated property, showing its practicality for varied products.
Mycelium is the vegetative section of a fungus. The current most-popular mycelium is extracted from the oyster mushroom; mycelium refers to the thread-like structure of the fungi. Furthermore, the environmentally-friendly material can be grown without the need for polluting substances and is completely biodegradable when it has reached the end of its useful life. It also has a positive environmental impact as it is able to replace animal and synthetic leather as well as assist in tackling issues like plastic pollution.
Other than being harvested naturally, mycelium can also be developed in agriculture waste in elements such as sawdust and pistachio shells. Naturally, mycelium benefits the environment and, surprising to some, does the same in its leather-like form as well.
The process of obtaining mushroom leather begins with choosing and moisturising substrates; the materials that mushrooms utilise as food as well as use to grow in. This substance can be wood chips, straw and corn, for example. The substrate is then dampened down and decanted into bags to be pasteurised, which removes any bacteria to ensure the mycelium can grow quicker, with ease. After the mycelium has spawned, it is placed into bags to allow the fungi to inhabit the combination. This is where the first example of sustainability is showcased as the only elements required here are time and minimal attention. For growth completion, the time span is anywhere between two to three weeks which is dependent on the mushroom, type of substrate, sunlight exposure and ventilation access. Once the mycelium obtains the required size, it is removed from the bag and compressed to the desired shape and size. This process allows the manufacturer to dye the compound and alter the texture to mimic cow, alligator or python skins, for example. The material is then left to dry.
The production process is known for complying with the circular economy and closed-loop approaches; in terms of fashion, this is the rule that the materials featured in the manufacturing process must “come from post-consumer waste”, meaning that these products can be “recycled, repurposed and converted into eco-friendly products”. For example, the waste-production of mushroom leather can be utilised as a smoking product in beekeeping, or as an organic crop fertiliser as the post-consumer waste is wood chips, corn cobs and straw. These materials are initially used with the mushroom spawn to create mycelium which is used to make the leather.
Known for its benefits to the immune system, this sustainable environmentally-friendly alternative has shown to act as a protection against cancer and to even reduce the ageing process.
Here at Seventh Vegan, we are passionate about providing leather alternatives and supporting this fashion movement.