Mushroom Leather, Your New Favourite Vegan Leather?

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Mushroom leather. It’s real, it’s fashionable, and it won’t get slimy in the back of your fridge.

Wait, what?

Welcome to the world of vegan leather, where surprising and often eco-friendly materials can be used to recreate your favourite leather items. Mushroom leather is one of the latest fabrics to emerge and we’re eager to show you how great it is for making clothes. 

Psst. Don’t store it in the fridge!

Before we start hounding you with reasons to buy mushroom leather (don’t worry, you’ll love it!), let us explain exactly what it is and why it’s about to become your new favourite vegan leather.

The Mushroom Leather 411

Along with pineapple, leaves and cork, mushroom is one the newest ‘vegetable leather’ alternatives to animal hide.

Not only does it completely negate the ethical dilemmas of traditional leather, but it also has some fantastic eco features that we’re drooling over like fanboys.

And mushroom leather isn’t made with overly complex processes that mean only commercial brands can afford it. On the contrary, MuSkin (a PETA-approved brand of mushroom leather) can be purchased by anyone online. 

Production capacity is up to 50 square metres per month at Life Materials – as demand grows and production capacity increases we hope the price drops even further.

Currently, mushroom fabric has a long way to go before we see it on the high street. Designer Stella McCartney has been one of the first to delve into fungus, recreating her iconic Falabella bag with mycelium leather… but, sadly, it was only a prototype and you can’t actually buy any mushroom leather products from her brand. 

Yet.

We’re hanging onto the yet, because we know that mushroom fabric is going to be huge. Watch this space.

Mushroom Leather Properties

Mushroom leather is one of the best leather substitutes because it’s so versatile! Compared to animal leather, this new material does everything you could want but without the environmental consequences.

  • Thin or thick – mushroom leather can be grown to any thickness and size, so it’s suitable for thin leather jackets, sturdy backpack straps and pretty much any use you can think of.
  • Suede-like touch – natural mushroom leather has a slightly soft touch, like suede, which feels super comfortable against your skin. Treating the mushroom leather with eco wax creates that smooth, waterproof textile too.
  • Antibacterial – not only is mushroom leather entirely non-toxic but it also releases any moisture (i.e. rain) immediately, deterring any bacteria from clinging to the damp material.

As fake leather materials go, mushroom leather is the closest to traditional leather. The texture, colour and feel of it when worn is so natural. We could replace your old animal leather wallet with a mushroom alternative and might not even notice…

Why Mushroom Leather is So Eco

Without inorganic chemicals, petroleum-based binding materials and toxic dyes, mushroom leather is incredibly eco and entirely biodegradable. To understand exactly why we’re so excited by these new mushroom leather alternatives, here’s a brief overview of the mycelium manufacturing process.

We start with the raw material: mushrooms. 

Mycelium Leather Production

mycelium
Microscopic view of a mycelium.  This image covers a one-millimeter square.
Source: Bob Baylock

To create mycelium leather, it’s the root network of the fungi that we’re interested in. With added nutrients (organic fertiliser, of course), these roots grow densely and quickly to create a network of mycelium cells. These cells are then harvested and compressed like fibres to create the new leather material.

This is the method that brands like Mylo are using. Even though it requires a fair bit of land to grow such a vast network of mycelium, it’s still tiny compared to the space required to raise livestock. Furthermore, mycelium grows in a matter of weeks rather than years, with minimal environmental impact.

Mushroom Cap Leather Production

The other method of creating mushroom leather is to use the mushroom caps. This is the method MuSkin is using.

It begins in the subtropical forests of South America where the Phellinus ellipsoideus fungus attacks trees. This is not a friendly mushroom at all. It actually putrefies the trees it latches on to! Once it’s harvested, the caps are treated and dyed like natural leather, but with non-toxic and sustainable processes.

Harvesting it removes a pest that harms our forests. But don’t worry about upsetting the natural balance of the subtropical ecosystem – instead of harvesting fungi directly from the trees, it can be grown naturally in labs.

How Does Mushroom Leather Compare to Other Vegan Leather?

When it comes to vegan leather, this is far from our first rodeo. We’ve asked ‘what is vegan leather made from’ and found many quirky and interesting sustainable leather alternatives pop up in response. 

We’ve tried them all and got the leather jackets to prove it. Below is our outline of exactly what you need to know about mushroom’s place in the vegan leather championship.

For clothing, mushroom leather ticks all the boxes. We love it! 

Type of Leather Ethical? Production Waste? Biodegradable? Sustainable? Practical?
TRADITIONAL Never! Made from animal skin. Massive production waste from raising cows (14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions). Tanneries waste tonnes of water, plus vast amounts of pollutants too. Yes, so long as there’s no plastic coating. No, land space required for cattle is unsustainable. Mostly. Great for shoes, bags, etc. but never entirely waterproof.
MUSHROOM Yes, totally vegan. Non-toxic water waste. Yes, entirely biodegradable. Yes, and very fast growing. Very. Can be grown to any size/depth/strength. Easy to sew with, naturally waterproof, etc.
PINEAPPLE Yes, totally vegan. Non-toxic water waste. Other waste depends on coatings (Pinatex uses PU and resin coatings for waterproofing). Base material is, coatings are not. Yes, if considerable changes are made to the way pineapples are grown. Mostly. Not as skin friendly as mushroom, but still good for all traditional leather uses.
CORK Yes, totally vegan. Non-toxic water waste. No waterproof coatings needed. Yes, entirely biodegradable. Yes, for a long time. However, cork trees won’t grow worldwide! Mostly. Naturally waterproof and anti-microbial. Not as malleable and not leather coloured.
PVC AND SYNTHETIC Vegan end result… but by-products created are harmful to all life Creates large volumes of dioxin – one of the most toxic substances with severe health consequences. Releases further dioxin as it degrades over 1000s of years. No, petroleum based. Not a sustainable material! Very. Easy to sew with, can be made into any size/colour/texture. Hard-wearing and waterproof.
UPCYCLED RUBBER Depends on the source of the upcycled rubber. Toxic waste for synthetic rubber, non-toxic waste for natural rubber. Natural rubber is biodegradable, synthetic isn’t. Natural rubber is sustainable, synthetic isn’t – but upcycling it is still good! Sometimes. Best for shoe soles, wallets and other sturdy items. Not great for clothing.

But other vegan leathers have their uses too. Let’s upcycle synthetic rubbers to keep them out of landfill as long as possible and promote the use of natural, biodegradable rubber at the same time, to end the vicious cycle.

And who could forget our love affair with cork leather (check out our full cork leather article), which is perfect for vegan flooring, insulation, yoga mats and so much more.

The key here is to ensure you use your existing real leather and synthetic leather items as much as possible – waste not! It’s not like you can put the leather back on the cow… Once they’re no longer usable, change your shopping habits for future purchases and make sure you pick an eco-friendly faux leather product instead.

If you want to find out how eco-friendly your entire wardrobe is, check out our Guide to Sustainable Clothing Fabrics.

3 Most Promising Mushroom Leather Products

While we wait impatiently for the fashion industry to catch up, we’re dreaming of the uses mushroom leather could have. This is just the start…

Mushroom Leather Shoes

Any shoe that is made out of traditional leather or suede can be remade into vegan shoes using mushroom leather. 

If you’re imagining rustic and quirky shoes worn by eccentrics, think again. Just because it’s made of mushrooms doesn’t mean it can’t be fashionable! Using natural dyes and designer plans, mushroom leather could be worked into high-fashion booties or business-smart brogues.

To give you an idea of what MuSkin shoes could look like in the right hands, take a peek at nat-2’s fungi sneakers. They’re made with tinder fungus, cork, natural rubber and faux suede made from recycled PET bottles.

Mushroom Bags

Vegan fashion wouldn’t be complete without a leather bag to store your vegan wallet, refillable water bottle and cruelty-free cosmetics.

Mushroom leather is particularly great for creating bags as it’s easy to treat with eco wax to be waterproof and can be dyed any colour you like. Don’t forget that it’s also biodegradable, so when it finally goes out of fashion, it won’t be sitting around in landfill for another thousand years!

Mushroom Leather Wallet

Wallets (and purses) made from leather alternatives are super popular, from recycled bike innertube wallets to Pinatex wallets made from pineapple leaf fibres. But as trendy and eco as these materials are, they don’t always blend in with the real world.

Mushroom leather appears closer to synthetic products. You can pull it out to pay for a business lunch in a swanky restaurant and your waiter won’t bat an eye, simply because it looks and feels like the traditional leather or suede that we’re accustomed to.

BONUS! Mushroom Hats

Already available handmade on Etsy, mushroom hats are great to wear all year around. Mushroom leather is quite lightweight, making it a great material for summer hats to keep the sun from your eyes. It’s also quite insulating, so it will keep your ears toasty warm when the temperature drops too.

amadou mushroom leather hat

Just remember to avoid the rain!

Join the Revolu-shroom!

Sustainable fashion is gaining traction… but sometimes it needs a little push to finally reach our high-street shelves and kick natural leather out for good.

Mushroom mycelium, pineapple leaves, even biodegradable synthetic spider silk. There are some great vegan alternatives if you’re just willing to search for them. If you can’t find mushroom products to buy online, head to Kickstarter to find something brand new…

This Indonesian watchmaker raised over $27,000 for mushroom leather watch straps grown in local agri-waste.

The Mylo Driver Bag is a beautiful vegan tote that aims to be the first commercially available mushroom leather bag! There’s still time to support this campaign.

Finally, 2 years ago a Kickstarter campaign was made for vegan mushroom leather wallets made in the UK! Handmade and lined with banana leather, we thought these were a great idea. Unfortunately, not enough funding was raised at the time.

Now we’re in 2020 and the world has changed drastically… can we revisit these mushroom leather ideas and take them a step further? Show your support for mushroom leather so we can make it everyone’s new favourite vegan leather alternative!

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