The Debrief: Is This the Beginning of the End for Leather?

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After years of experimentation and development, handbags, shoes and coats made of mycelium leather — created from the roots of mushrooms — are hitting the shelves from names like Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Hermès. It’s a test of whether mycelium leather will make it in the mainstream. Made by start-ups like Bolt Threads and MycoWorks, mycelium is promising for fashion as brands seek out non-plastic, non-animal-based, less-energy-intensive leather alternatives and consumers demand more environmentally friendly products. But taking an idea from the lab to the store floor involves a lot of trial and error.

“Innovation takes time. I think the fashion world isn’t used to having to wait. We’re all about instant gratification,” said BoF’s chief sustainability correspondent Sarah Kent.

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Key Insights:

  • “Mushroom leather” is actually a misnomer. The fabric is made from mycelium, which is the web structure that forms the roots of mushrooms underground.
  • Though the space is gaining momentum as brands bring products to market and start-ups attract investment, most items are still limited-edition or very expensive. To gain mainstream traction, companies need to scale up and prices need to go down. Much depends on how brands’ first experiments perform.
  • A large swath of companies, including LVMH and Kering, see value in testing mycelium as consumers become more interested in looking after their social and environmental impacts at the same time innovations mature.
  • If all goes well, the market for alternative materials could be worth $2.2 billion by 2026.
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Additional Resources:

  • Would You Buy a Mushroom Handbag? For the first time, brands including Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Hermès are bringing products made of mushroom-based materials to market, an early test for whether the next-generation fabrics could one day hit the mainstream.
  • Fashion’s Race for New Materials — Download the Case Study: Brands are pursuing a raft of initiatives to adopt recycled textiles, regeneratively farmed cotton and mushroom-based leather, but giving fashion’s major materials a sustainability makeover still requires billions of dollars worth of investments and deeper, longer-term commitments to scale.
  • Luxury’s Latest Battleground: Material Science: Armed with extensive patent portfolios, Bolt Threads, Modern Meadow, MycoWorks, Natural Fiber Welding and others are targeting luxury brands with alternative materials.
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