ESG In The Mushroom Leather Industry: All You Need To Know

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by KnowESG
Image of sheet of Mycoworks mushroom leather
Image of MycoWorks mushroom leather courtesy of www.theworld.org

In the time-sensitive market of business, brands are continuously searching for methods to reduce their expenses and simultaneously meet consumer needs — and in today’s era, there’s also a demand for environmental ethics and keeping up with ESG trends. Vegan mushroom leather can deliver greater profitability more quickly than other alternatives due to its simplified production process and greater speed. With these increased profits, businesses could invest in modernising technology which would ultimately enhance the quality of luxury products.

The Water, Energy and Climate Environmental Metrics 2017 study reveals that not only is a mushroom a nutritious food option, but it also benefits our environment. Mushrooms are known to thrive in humid spots with little sunlight, thus playing an important role in keeping decaying organic materials from accumulating too quickly. 

As such, mushrooms contribute greatly by helping reduce waste within their habitats. Furthermore, through the bioconversion of crop waste into nutrient-dense products like proteins, this form of cultivation provides a sustainable alternative for managing agricultural leftovers.

By taking advantage of mushroom cultivation, not only can farmers effectively remediate agricultural waste, but they also have the potential to create a thriving business enterprise through the development of innovative products for various consumer uses, one of which is mushroom leather, an entirely vegan product for the fashion industry which can be used as a safe alternative to bovine leather. 

What Is Mushroom Leather?

Mushroom leather is a vegan-friendly, eco-friendly alternative to animal hide. This sustainable material is produced from mycelium, the vegetative portion of fungi. It's not only guilt-free but also offers similar characteristics and quality compared to traditional leather, and so is an ideal material for creating shoes, bags, clothing - anything that would typically be crafted with animal leather!

MycoWorks, a San Francisco startup, is fusing artistic design and innovative manufacturing techniques to create an entirely new material created from reishi mushrooms. This up-and-coming material has remarkable potential for the fashion industry. You can find out more about MycoWorks’ materials process via their in-depth explanation and videos here.

How Is Mushroom Leather Made?

To create this sustainable material, growers first moisten their chosen substrate so that the mushrooms have adequate nourishment to grow properly. Common substrates used are corn husks, straw, wood chips or compost; all providing an anchor for fungal attachment during development. Once dampened and inserted into a bag for pasteurisation - growth begins.

The mushroom grows in an optimal environment with protection against bacteria, ensuring the fast and healthy growth of mycelium. Mycelium binds plant fibres together through a glue-like substance to create a textured fabric similar to animal leather; while this combination is soft yet durable, it still remains flexible and consistent.

The leather growth process usually takes two to three weeks. Afterwards, a combination of water, starch, minerals and hydrogen peroxide is poured into a form and infused with living mushroom cells in the dark for them to propagate. The mushroom cells consume the starch which creates thousands of cellular strands that can expand up to an inch thick. To prevent moulding, the shape is then dried before it can be used as leather material.

Featured Article: 13 Sustainable Designers And Luxury Fashion Brands You Need To Know

Unsustainable Environmental Impacts Of Leather Production

Considering its source, sustainability is a murky concept when it comes to bovine leather. Research from TheUnited Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has found that this sector produces roughly 14%of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions; with cattle-rearing alone contributing 65%.

The primary yield of cattle rearing is of course meat, not leather. The hides from a cow only amount to approximately 5-10% in terms of market value and 7% in terms of its weight.

And while there's no definitive connection between the demand for red meat and leather, that doesn't mean a decrease in the need for leather won't reduce animal slaughtering. Despite this, tanning of leather remains energy-intensive and generates an abundance of sludge waste throughout processing.

Mushroom Leather - a replacement?

Last year, prototypes were tested in countries like theUS, Italy and Indonesia, which included watches, purses, bags and shoes. As manufacturing costs reduce with larger-scale production it is expected that this material could be competitive with traditional leather options.

Positive indicators are everywhere. Just last year, MycoWorks secured US$17 million in venture capital funding and it's easy to envision a future where fungal leather alternatives replace animal leather in many consumer goods. 

Image of MycoWorks Reishi mushroom leather sheets

Mushroom Leather ESG Trends

Mushroom leather is a great substitute for animal and synthetic leather that has an extremely positive environmental impact by helping to reduce plastic pollution, taking advantage of organic waste streams from agriculture, and by reducing the dependence on traditional animal-sourced leathers.  Not only does this material eliminate the need for chemical sprays to fight bad odours, but it also holds tremendous amounts of air which make shoes lightweight yet excellent insulators - perfect for human skin.

Key benefits of Mushroom Leather

The use of mushroom leather provides numerous benefits in terms of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards. It is a green material that can be used to replace traditional animal-based leathers, thus reducing the environmental impact associated with animal farming and production. In short:

  • It is a ‘green’ material that can be used to replace traditional animal-based leathers, thus reducing the environmental impact associated with animal farming and production.

  • Mushroom leather does not require any toxic chemicals or dyes for its production, which makes it safer for workers and consumers alike.

  • It is biodegradable so there are no waste products produced from its production process, making it more sustainable than other materials.

All of these factors make mushroom leather a green material that is suitable for green bonds and climate-friendly investments in new businesses exploring its potential uses. 

Image of mushroom leather sneakers - collaboration between nat-2 and Zvnder

Brands backing mushroom leather

Overall, mushroom leather is a promising new material that has the potential to revolutionise the way we think about leather and sustainability. To find out more, check out the following brands, which either use or are experimenting with using the material in their products:

  1. Mycoworks: A company that specialises in producing and promoting mushroom leather.

  2. Stella McCartney: A luxury fashion brand that is known for its commitment to sustainability and ethical production practices.

  3. Adidas: The global sportswear brand has been exploring the use of mushroom leather in its products.

  4. Bolt Threads: A company that creates high-performance materials using biologically-based processes, including mushroom leather.

  5. Reformation: A fashion brand that specialises in sustainable and eco-friendly clothing and accessories, including mushroom leather products.

  6. Will's Vegan Store: A brand that produces ethically-made, vegan shoes and accessories, including those made from mushroom leather.

The Bottom Line

Mushroom leather is an innovative and sustainable material that offers a more environmentally friendly and ethical alternative to traditional leather. As the demand for sustainable and ethical products continues to grow, it is likely that we will see an increase in the use of mushroom leather in a variety of applications.

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