Mushroom skin is becoming a hot commodity for fashion brands looking for an alternative to genuine leather. Now, Ecovative, a materials innovation company based in New York, sees the industry as the next big opportunity for growth, and plans to scale up production to be the first to offer such a skin-like replacement on a large scale by the end of the year.
Ecovatives grow the mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, and turn them into skin substitutes, as well as offerings in other sectors, such as meat alternatives. The team served as the initial supplier for the Mylo Bolt Threads mushroom skin, which Stella McCartney piloted in a two-piece vegan collection earlier this year. Ecovative this week announced a $ 60 million Series D financing round, which will be used to expand production and potential applications. CEO Eben Bayer sees mycelium as a solution in reducing the fashion footprint by shifting the industry away from leather, and said it is now ready to scale its own operations and target fashion clients, signaling growing opportunities and increasing competition in the nascent category.
“Our mission is to make mycelium widely available on a large scale,” he said. The company plans to take lessons from him its food business and apply it to textiles, Bayer added. “To date, neither fashion brands nor their consumers have access to more than a limited number of mycelium – we are dedicated to changing that.”
Interest in plant-based alternatives to leather is soaring, both because of the heating demand for vegan clothing and as the industry strives to lower its carbon footprint. Animal agriculture is a significant source of global emissions and tropical deforestation, and brands are increasingly willing to experiment with alternative staple foods that are emerging on the market. Earlier this month, Hermès, a major supplier of luxury leather goods, announced plans to use a mycelium-like leather material developed with MycoWorks in one of its bags by the end of the year.
Apart from Bolted and Ecovative Yarns, MycoWorks also works with mycelium, Natural Fiber Welding using cork, natural rubber and other natural materials for make the Mirum materials such as leather, and a number of other companies work with plant residues such as grapes and pineapples to create their own substitutes. However, neither of these were used on a large scale; Plant waste bark has been adopted to a limited extent by fashion, and while a number of large or well-known brands have taken an interest in Bolt Threads, the company has collaborated on a proof-of-concept product but has not delivered full-scale production. Ecovative wants to be the first to offer a plant-based leather alternative that is ready to scale, and could raise the stakes in the fashion race for more sustainable, higher-quality skin replacement, with a more attractive look and feel, than plastic-based vegan materials.
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