Startup Makes Fake Leather From Mushrooms

(Photo credit: jmv/Flickr)
(Photo credit: jmv/Flickr)

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Shiitake is the new Gucci.

A profile by The New York Times highlighted the success of biotech company MycoWorks, which manufactures faux leather out of mycelium, the thread-like roots at the base of mushrooms.

Not Mushroom For Doubt

MycoWorks’ origin story goes back to 2007 when its founders, an artist and a Ph.D. student, met at an art show. The pair commercially teamed up five years later, launching their startup as a fairly DIY affair. Founder Sophia Wang (the aforementioned Ph.D.) told The Times, “there were three of us in a basement with plywood and plastic sheeting.” The company is looking like more of an outfit now with over 160 employees across three countries, and a 150,000 sq. ft factory due to open next year. It also got a $187 million cash injection in November from investors, among them celebrities including Natalie Portman and John Legend. That’s right. Fungi are definitely fashion-forward.

Far from being a speculative future use case, MycoWorks is already supplying its material, called Reishi, to Hermès to make handbags. And MycoWorks isn’t the only company selling mushroom-based goods to designer brands:

  • Another company called Bolt Threads collaborated with Stella McCartney last year to make a faux-leather bustier and trouser set, which was then featured in Vogue. “This is the future of fashion,” McCartney told the magazine, “If we can get this right, then we can really make a huge impact on the planet.”
  • The leather goods market was valued at $400 billion in 2021, and the synthetic leather market at $31.9 billion, so there’s lots of room for maneuvering. Mycelium-based faux leather also has an edge over traditional plastic-based alternatives, as a much more eco-conscious option.

Mushroom cap: California-based hatmaker Nick Fouquet told The Times he made 50 bucket hats out of MycoWorks’ Reishi material this year, and sold them all at $810 a pop. “I asked one of my seamstresses and she couldn’t tell the difference between Reishi and real leather,” Fouquet said. For $810, you’d hope so.