Pressure on the fashion industry to reduce its sizable negative impact on the environment is rising, and vegan alternatives to leather, animal, and petrochemical-based materials are being embraced as a promising solution. One of the fashion industry’s newest must-haves is mycelium, a “mushroom” material grown from fungi which can be engineered to replicate the look and feel of calfskin or sheepskin leather, and just might help save the planet. Ecovative, which runs the world’s largest mycelium leather foundry, has signed an agreement with international multi-brand fashion companies Bestseller and PVH Corp to integrate the sustainable alternative material into different product lines for the two companies’ stable of brands, including Tommy Hilifiger, Calvin Klein and Vero Moda. Mycelium “mushroom leather” can outperform traditional animal-based materials in strength and durability, and recently made its high-fashion debut as a Hermès handbag. The “leather” can be grown in pieces to the specific shape and size required by a designer, eliminating the need for cutting room waste. Because the cost of mycelium leather at scale is comparable to that of mid-range of animal-based leather, it provides an attractive option outside of its sustainability benefits from both a performance and economic perspective, turning positive social and environmental impact for fashion companies into brand value.
Through its fungi foundry, which utilizes vertical farming infrastructure, Ecovative is able to provide millions of square feet of mycelium annually. The company has more than a decade of experience providing mycelium materials for partners throughout North America, Asia, and Europe, and its latest 100% bio-based alternative leather material product, called ForagerT Hides, was launched in March 2021 after five years of research and development. The growth process only takes nine days, and yields a ready-to-finish material up to 80 feet long, free of environmentally harmful plastic scrims and petroleum based coatings. Bestseller and PVH will work directly with Ecovative to co-develop mycelium materials for a range of product applications, including accessories like belts, and footwear, with the goal of producing prototypes by the end of this year before moving into wider commercial production in 2023.
This article originally appeared in a PSFK guide for Delivering Sustainability in Retail with Merchandise & Sourcing Strategies