Is Fungi Really the Future of Fashion?

Words May Gar­land

For­get spring flo­rals, mush­rooms are the lat­est trend sprout­ing in the fash­ion indus­try.  They are appear­ing every­where from mush­room motifs on clothes to fun­gi face creams, and now mush­rooms are used in mate­r­i­al inno­va­tion. In light of the cli­mate cri­sis we are fac­ing, plan­et preser­va­tion is at the fore­front of dis­cus­sions in the fash­ion indus­try and these mag­i­cal mush­rooms may be our answer to mak­ing fash­ion more sus­tain­able. 

From ‘shrooms embell­ished on Bel­la Hadid’s T‑shirts, but­ton mush­room Chanel ear­rings and fun­gi home decor, to reishi-laced skin­care to fight inflam­ma­tion and cha­ga cof­fee to boost immu­ni­ty, we all seem to be going crazy for mush­rooms! Fun­gi has proven to have immea­sur­able ben­e­fits for the body as well as becom­ing a groovy and trip­py sym­bol in pop­u­lar cul­ture and now retail­ers are explor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of pro­duc­ing fab­ric from fun­gi. Through the process of bio-fab­ri­ca­tion, the under­ground roots of mush­rooms called myceli­um can be used to cre­ate sus­tain­able alter­na­tives to leather and suede.

In line with their new sus­tain­abil­i­ty ethos, Adi­das has launched Stan Smith Mylo, the first shoe of its kind pro­duced from a mush­room-based mate­r­i­al. The icon­ic Adi­das shoe has been remade with a mate­r­i­al, Mylo derived from myceli­um and devel­oped by the biotech com­pa­ny Bolt Threads. The result­ing fab­ric is flex­i­ble, breath­able and remark­ably resem­bles ani­mal leather. This makes it an ide­al, eth­i­cal alter­na­tive to mate­ri­als pro­duced from ani­mals and syn­thet­ic plas­tics, and marks a big step for­ward for sus­tain­abil­i­ty in the fash­ion indus­try. Bolt Threads, Stel­la McCart­ney, Lul­ule­mon and Ker­ing are also part­ners in the Mylo con­sor­tium devel­op­ing the mush­room leather. Stel­la McCart­ney, known for her glob­al­ly-con­scious approach to fash­ion, pro­duced the 2017 fun­gi Fal­a­bel­la bag and has even released the world’s first gar­ment devel­oped from Mylo and recy­cled nylon scu­ba. Her­mès has also jumped on the band­wag­on pro­duc­ing their trade­mark bags from reishi myceli­um. Mush­room leather alter­na­tives are tak­ing the indus­try by storm and have inspired brands to take a more organ­ic approach to mate­r­i­al inno­va­tion with the sus­tain­able shoes and cloth­ing com­pa­ny, All­birds announc­ing plans to devel­op a new shoe using leather derived from rub­ber tree sap.

In a time when it is essen­tial that the fash­ion indus­try makes more eco-con­scious deci­sions, fun­gi seems to be the ide­al solu­tion. As opposed to ani­mal leathers which take a year to pro­duce and con­sume a sig­nif­i­cant amount of water, Mylo mush­room-based leather can be pro­duced in two weeks with a much low­er car­bon foot­print as the pro­duc­tion process even absorbs car­bon out of the atmos­phere. This myceli­um-based tex­tile also trumps many non-ani­mal leather alter­na­tives because it is pro­duced from a nat­ur­al sub­stance rather than the syn­thet­ic alter­na­tives derived from petro­chem­i­cals. Myceli­um has even been used to clean up oil spills and could even become a new, biodegrad­able con­struc­tion mate­r­i­al.

The lux­u­ry mar­ket is not only cre­at­ing fab­ric from fun­gi but using myceli­um as inspi­ra­tion for gar­ment sil­hou­ettes. Van Herpen’s spring 2021 cou­ture col­lec­tion drew inspi­ra­tion from the nat­ur­al world and Mer­lin Sheldrake’s book Entan­gled Life: How Fun­gi Make Our Worlds cre­at­ing dress­es with fanned sil­hou­ettes mim­ic­k­ing a chanterelle mush­room. Rahul Mishra had his own take on mush­rooms for his spring 2021 col­lec­tion, design­ing a line-up of minidress­es com­pro­mis­ing entire­ly of hand-embroi­dered mush­rooms and lay­ered flow­ing gowns mim­ic­k­ing shelves of fun­gi sprout­ing from trees. 

In a tech-savvy world, the solu­tions to unsus­tain­abil­i­ty seem to lie in the nat­ur­al world. With­out fun­gi, all ecosys­tems would per­ish and this resilient organ­ism has proven to be a ver­sa­tile resource in the world of fash­ion, show­ing to the world that re-con­nect­ing with nature can solve many prob­lems in our lifestyle, pro­mot­ing a health­i­er exis­tence for our­selves and the plan­et. As stat­ed by  Francesca Gavin, cura­tor of Mush­rooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fun­gi, “mush­rooms pro­vide a con­tem­po­rary metaphor for new ways of think­ing and liv­ing in a more pos­i­tive way with nature, they show how liv­ing in sym­bio­sis with the world around us is the only route for sur­vival”. This leaves us ques­tion­ing is fun­gi fashion’s future?