After decades of synthetic fibres dominating the fashion industry, nature is back on trend. With the help of science and forward-thinking designers, biofabrication is innovating materials. This process involves the manipulation of biomaterials, with the use of 3D printing principles to produce sustainable alternatives to mainstream materials. Eco-friendly natural materials that have become popular recently amongst designers include pineapple leaves, bamboo and hemp. The next biomaterial that has gained traction is using fungi, but is there mush-room for this material in the fashion world?
Mushrooms make delicious food yes, but they also have surprisingly versatile textile qualities. In the right form the material can be: breathable, non-toxic, soft, antibacterial and biodegradable. Several companies across the world, listed below, have pioneered the manipulation of mushrooms into products such as packaging, furniture and now fashion.
“Wood fungus are going to be one of the major engines for manufacturing in the 21st century.”- Dr. Drew Endy, Stanford University.
Muskin is natural PETA-approved ‘leather’ made from the skin of a mushroom, developed by Italian textile-design manufacture GradoZero Espace. Muskin is an economically viable, biodegradable and a non-toxic alternative to animal leather. The material can also be water-resistant with the addition of eco wax which means Muskin can be used to produce shoes insoles, bags and watch straps. The company has claimed that commercial fashion producers have put in orders but are yet to release names.
MycoTech based in Indonesia is solving environmental and social issues purchasing agricultural waste from farmers to produce the material. The process uses mycelium (root part of the fungus) with agricultural by-product. Starting in 2012 as mushroom producers, the team have since opened three research laboratories in Sweden, Switzerland and Singapore.
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MycoWorks have been researching and developing products made from fungus for over 20 years. The team of scientists and designers in America, produce quality faux-leather from mycelium in a carbon negative process (similar to MycoTech).
Designer or scientist?
An exciting aspect of sustainable fashion currently is that designers are adapting their roles to incorporate science. Several fashion designers are taking matters into their own hands and researching innovative materials and methods, mushroom material is one of them. Suzanne Lee is the pioneer in ‘grow your own clothes’, if you haven’t seen her TED talk, we’ve embedded for your viewing pleasure.
Dutch designer Aniela Hoitink founder of textile firm NEFFA is a perfect example. Last year she unveiled her MycoTEX project, which researched and developed mycelium as a flexible material. This was a big break through for biomaterial, meaning that mycelium from mushroom can be used to produce textiles.
“I aim to change the way we use textiles…by altering or adding properties to textile, we can investigate how we will use textiles in the future and what the related implications will be.” – Aniela Hoitink, Sustainable Designer.
Erin Smith, artist at Growable Gowns, took a more artistic approach creating her own wedding dress from mushroom. I won’t lie, it’s stiff and looked ugly. Apparently, even Erin’s mother hated the dress. Gimmicky it may be, it received media attention as a good example of textile waste and possible alternatives.
Will mushroom fashion go mainstream?
There are countless benefits to producing clothes from mushrooms. Textile waste is a huge issue for the planet and the industry is arguably the second largest contributor to climate change. Mushroom is a strong, biodegradable and an easily manipulated material. It’s also apparently comfortable to wear and antimicrobial. The fact that it can be grown and fixed easily is also a huge bonus.
There is however a slight “ick” factor to wearing fungus that some people may not be ok with. Then again, we currently walk around wearing jackets made from cow’s skin. Superficially, it needs more work but I can see it working for specific products i.e. shoe insoles, watch straps and bags.
Either way, it’s an exciting time for the fashion industry and I really hope brands get on board the trend of using innovative and innovative biomaterials.
Do you think science and fashion need to work together to move towards a more sustainable industry? Or do you think these innovative biomaterials and fabrics are faddish? Feel free to share your thoughts below.