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MycoWorks, Advanced Materials Using Mycelium

Hermes Victoria bag in Sylvania made out of Fine Mycelium, H Plume Canvas and Evercalf Calfskin.

Mycelium refers to the root structure, more specifically the network of threads from which mushrooms grow. Biotechnology startup MycoWorks uses mycelium from mushrooms to create a premium leather-alternative material. This California-based company founded by Sophia Wang and Philip Ross is a formidable representation of what today’s intersection of biotechnology, creative design, and sustainability can look like. MycoWorks materials have been made into various products, including phone cases, wallets, and belts, and have been used by designer brands such as Hermes. While their materials currently reside at an expensive price point, MycoWorks projects expansion is strongly supported by the sustainability and unique material qualities of using mycelium. Within the manufacturing process, the qualities of mycelium allow its material derivative to grow without requiring plastic glue to mend fibers together and can be grown in a three-dimensional form. Furthermore, it has superior malleability compared to leather and has better material efficiency than animal hides where only selective parts can be used.

Diving into its manufacture, the process starts with trays filled with wood, water, and mycelium. The trays grow through this mixture, expanding into a full white brick. From there, any one of thousands of textiles can be added. The textile choice changes the material profile, allowing for the creation of cotton, silk, Kevlar, and other common fabrics. The mycelium enters its growth cycle after adding a textile, which a major point of sustainability comes into play. While other biomaterials often rely on mending fibers together with plastic glue, mycelium’s cells will grow to intertwine its fibers independently. Once the textile has the desired characteristics, it is harvested by removing the material from its substrate. A lubricant is added afterward to end the growth phase and begin the tanning process.

Not only is mycelium a sustainable alternative to leather, but it also has properties that animal skin lacks. It is possible to split the material down to 0.2 millimeters due to its strong, dense cellular structure whereas leather can only be split to 0.4 millimeters. Furthermore, mycelium’s cellular structure and growth can be manipulated in a high-frequency welding process to be constructed without stitching. Arguably, one of mycelium’s best features is its ability to grow in a three-dimensional form, allowing for easy construction of products such as phone cases. In traditional alligator and crocodile skills, only about 40% of the hide can be used to make traditional leather. This type of waste is not an issue with mycelium-made leather.

MycoWorks is a wonderful example of how an industry like fashion can be transformed to accommodate the type of sustainability needed to move forward globally. With highly creative origins, this company has engineered a plant-based leather that is not only a more sustainable alternative but has greater customizability and potential cost efficiency than traditional leather. As a company that values diversity and woman empowerment, we can expect great influence and transformative change in the fashion industry in the future.

About the Author:

This article was written by Mirvat Chowdhury, a chemical engineering student at the University of Toronto. She is interested in environmental engineering and enjoys learning about biotechnology developments related to sustainability.


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