By now, you’ve probably been overexposed to the headlines with statements about how fungal fashion the future is. While mushrooms have been an important part of the natural world for millennia, this new worship in popular culture is just one recurrence of collective appreciation that sprouted at the end of the 60s. For the spring of 2021, we saw the tastes of Iris Van Herpen, Rahul mishra, Jonathan anderson, and Daniel Del Core taking direct inspiration from the enchanting folds of mushrooms and using this intense moment of universal transcendence to fuel their creativity. But the biggest difference now is that progressive designers don’t just use mushroom iconography as a graphic motif to press their merchandisemany of them are thinking about how to integrate the fungi into the tissues of their raw materials.
The recent push towards sustainability has caused a major shift in the fashion industry, a calculation long overdue given the increased demand for ethics and more environmentally friendly standards. As Intersectional environmentalist founder Leah Thomas explained in a Twitter yarn, there are so many nuances in the sustainable fashion space because it is still in transition. But the demand for sustainability, human health and animal welfare is increasing exponentially. Since fungi function as a natural recycling system, the mycelium (the fuzzy, fibrous feeding network that helps fungi to grow) serves as a multifunctional option for more conscious packaging, as shown by companies like Eco-friendly design and their suite of biodegradable alternatives. The next step is to introduce mycelium leather goods to the commercial market, as demonstrated this year Stella mccartney and Herms.
For hundreds of years, many industries have depended on petroleum or traditional animal products. Switch to consumer goods made from vegan leathera textile typically made from polyurethane or polyvinyl acetate was a quick fix at low cost, but studies have shown that these synthetic substitutions can still be harmful to the environment. No matter how you dress it, plastic is still plastic, which means biodegradable products like this will outlive us in a landfill.
Mycelium leather is considered a better option due to the aspects of low energy manufacturing and biodegradability. (The roots can be grown on sawdust and other byproducts as opposed to acres of land that have less environmental impact.) On the other hand, it’s still so new that no one really knows what the long term durability of mycelium products looks like yet.
Companies like Bolt threads, which has been at the forefront of biotechnology innovation since 2009, has also entered the fold of mushroom fashion. When Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads, noticed that the fashion industry was underserved when it came to consumer products, he made sure the company’s mission was to bring new materials to solve the problems of our consumer market by focusing first on nature. He likes to thank Mother Nature for giving us a four billion year working example of a perfectly circular materials economy.
The company made its luxury fashion debut in 2017 when it got the opportunity to partner with McCartney to design a dress in Microsilk (silk proteins spun by spiders), which was then exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. From there Bolt Threads developed into the production of mycelium as a material with an alternative to leather. Mylo, followed by a consortium including Stella McCartney, Adidas, Lululemon and Kering.
When Isaac larose and Florence Provencher Proulx created EDEN Power Corp in 2019, the vision was to bring an eco-conscious streetwear brand to the market. According to Larose, their intention with the project is to better educate themselves and others by using the product as an application of the idea. He explains how their mission is to show alternatives that divert attention to the people who have done the grassroots work in social justice and environmental justice, adding that we are not really creating anything, things are already there. Each season, EDEN builds a uniform for a department of a fictitious company that is tackling a specific environmental problem. Larose is a foraging fan, a hobby he has enjoyed for years, so it made sense that they would dig deeper into mushroom territory.
Although they don’t have access to mycelium leathers at the moment, Larose didn’t let that stop EDEN from exploring all possibilities through collaboration with smaller artisans. [Mycelium leather is] quite exclusive to a few big brands right now, which I think is a really good thing by the way, he says. It’s really important that they have the support of these bigger brands to do research and development. It’s a normal process.
EDEN Mycelium collection for spring 2021 presents a Amadou mushroom hat which was inspired by the mycologist Paul Stamets. It took months for a Transylvanian craftsman to handcraft the spongy piece, and a slight variation is currently being made with household items that will be made from the same material. EDEN also sells a wine cooler, Planter, and brick made from mycelium grown on agricultural hemp waste; the lookbook of the collection was shot on site at The 400 Mushroom Feet, a farm in Montral that grows mushrooms for restaurants in the region. Lately, Larose has also been busy experimenting with Mushroom Ink, who is excited about joining the brand.
Of course, regenerative innovation at all levels is a costly business. Accessibility is a big factor in discussions about sustainability and there is a lot of money to be made in the development of the technology around it. It can be done, but it’s so expensive, says Larose. That’s the main issue for us right now, our products are really very expensive and we understand consumers who don’t want to pay that kind of price … Our goal is to change the spotlight and see what is possible. What we hope is that the big brands will copy, not the style, but the idea.
As someone who covers the world of agriculture in depth from all angles, Whitney baucka Brooklyn-based journalist familiar with fashion, climate, and religion saw the counter-productivity of patented materials when only one company owns them and how that obviously creates more problems. Her main concern is getting mycelium-based materials into the hands of little designers, and she’s very curious about how companies invested in developing biotech will help little guys make this transition, as she will ultimately have a greater impact on their businesses. She adds: This is one of the questions for me, to what extent is this going to be something that other companies can innovate on and determine their own way of doing things versus what will really benefit a company. or two companies that come. on top and have proprietary materials that they market as more durable?
Widmaier says there are discussions at Bolt Threads about scheduling programming to support small designers who are passionate about working with materials like Mylo. The idea would be to distribute a set amount of square footage for each designer to use, but Bolt Threads is still a long way off that scale. He argues that this new class of materials will become more accessible over time as it becomes more mainstream, but it has taken so long because deep technical innovation has not been the driving force behind fashion. for a long time, although it is an industry that is baked into change.
But Widmaier has come a long way from where he started as a dude, a box full of spiders and an empty bed. He remembers that a little over ten years ago no one who worked in fashion wanted to talk about sustainability. Now that everything is happening in real time, Widmaier is eager to see how consumers adjust after the pandemic is released, as history shows that there can often be a collective change in behavior after periods of scarcity.
Ultimately, it’s the consumers who drive the bus, he concludes. If you can identify where they’re going, we’re all going.
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