Although leather is an amazing luxury material, I sometimes see people working with or requesting alternatives. Mushroom leather is the latest in synthetic and sustainable vegan leather and interesting material that can provide more options for myself and others.
Mushroom leather is vegan, synthetic leather created from mycelium fiber and plastic. This alternative is environmentally friendly and sustainable. While it’s currently difficult to purchase mushroom leather, estimated costs are $50 per square foot until it can be mass-produced.
Mushroom leather can be a great alternative for environmentally conscious crafters or those interested in vegan alternatives. Let’s go over the benefits and characteristics of mushroom leather.
What Is Mushroom Leather?
Mushroom leather is a vegan alternative material. It is a synthetic leather-like product created from the root-like structure of a fungus known as mycelium with an infusion of plastics to give it more durability.
Although mushroom leather is a reasonably new material yet to be fully explored, it provides a more environmentally friendly leather option. While also being completely sustainable when compared to traditional leather hides.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Mushroom Leather
- Mushroom Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Mushroom Leather
- Pros of Mushroom Leather
- Cons of Mushroom Leather
- How Mushroom Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Mushroom Leather
- Cost of Mushroom Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Mushroom Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Mushroom Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Mushroom Leather
- My Personal Research on Mushroom Leather
- Mushroom Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Mushroom Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
While mushroom leather is still new, and its usage has not reached its full potential, a common misconception with vegan leather alternatives is them being biodegradable. However, only the mushroom leather’s fiber, mycelium, is biodegradable. Like other vegan leather alternatives, plastic is required to create durable mushroom leather, making the product only partly biodegradable.
History of Mushroom Leather
Mushroom leather is a recently developed material beginning in 2012. Product designers were experimenting with the stringy mycelium from different fungi. Utilizing it in various homeware products.
It was later patented as an alternative leather material in 2015 by MycoWorks and Ecovative Design. Since then, small showcases have taken place to show off the material, including a collaboration with Hermès, a luxury design company focusing on leather.
Mushroom Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Synthetic|
|Surface Texture||Supple though can be various textures|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||Currently made to order in any thickness|
|Largest Workable Size||27 meters by 2 meters|
|Ease of Maintenance (1-10)||5|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||Still being determined, although durable|
|Available Colors||Currently made to order in any color|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$50 per square foot|
|Ease of Crafting (1-10)||7|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Currently exotic with plans to mass produce|
|Annual Production Volume||Undisclosed, but a potential 3 million square feet from current tanneries|
|Biggest Exporting Country||Indonesia, U.S.|
|Biggest Importing Country||Currently unavailable|
In-depth Characteristics of Mushroom Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Mushroom leather is a synthetic leather created with a natural fiber, mycelium. It is produced in tightly wound sheets that can be further processed like genuine leather cowhides without using chromium.
Mushroom leather’s texture is supple and almost suede-like. However, one significant benefit of mushroom leather is its ability to take any dye or textured imprint. This means surface texture can vary to a large extent.
While information is limited on the available thicknesses, as the material is not mass-produced, the mycelium used to create leather can be compressed. This gives the impression that layers of mycelium can be stacked to create any thickness.
Largest Workable Size
Similar to thickness, the sizes created during production are primarily unknown. One company claims their largest production of mushroom leather can be 27 meters by 2 meters. However, since mushroom leather is synthetic, size production would be limited by its production process.
Mushroom leather is said to be flexible, with two current examples being a bag made by Hermès and shoes by Adidas. These two products require more flexible leathers showing the potential of mushroom leather.
Mushroom leather is compared to suede when naturally finished. However, the leather can take on various textures giving it different feels depending on production. This provides a leather type filled with potential in its variety.
Although the information is limited on how working with mushroom leather feels. Both Hermès and Adidas have made products with this leather. However, Adidas is a machine-sewn product; hand-sewing mushroom leather may vary.
In different tests conducted by manufacturers of mushroom leather. They have found its durability similar to deerskin, a very strong leather type. Adding plastic to the leather also assists in creating a durable material.
Ease of Maintenance
Mushroom leather products can be cleaned with cold water and a clean rag, making it a seemingly straightforward leather to maintain. However, it has yet to be known how this leather will behave after long-term use.
Lifespan with Daily Use
This can not be determined as mushroom leather is new, and its production is limited. However, the material’s durability seems comparable to other leathers. Potentially lasting decades if maintained properly.
Mushroom leather can be dyed any color. Currently, the material is only made to order, requesting the color when purchasing.
The material is naturally water resistant before it is made into leather. As a result, the leather itself retains water-resistant properties, a unique quality in leather.
The production of mushroom leather is limited at this time, driving up the product’s price. Currently, the average cost of synthetic leather is $50 per square foot. This is expected to drop to a tenth of the price as production increases.
Ease of Crafting
There is no known data for mushroom leather in terms of crafting. This leather has been used by larger companies and brands that do not reflect the average crafter’s toolset. Although the leather can be machine sewn with no binding, which is indicative of a more solid piece rather than a fabric.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Mushroom leather is exotic and can only be ordered at much higher costs than any other leather. While the production of leather is expected to expand in the following years, it will still only be a fraction compared to other leather industries.
Pros of Mushroom Leather
Mushroom leather seems promising from the information released. It is durable, flexible, and water-resistant. For the production side, it is more environmentally friendly than animal leather, using less than a tenth of the water required. As well as more sustainable as the mycelium grows exponentially. Lastly, mushroom leather can be embossed and dyed with any color or texture, making it extremely versatile.
Mushroom leather can be a great alternative for environmentally conscious crafters or those interested in vegan alternatives.
Cons of Mushroom Leather
The largest drawback of mushroom leather is the lack of production. At this time, it is very costly and must be specially ordered. There is no information on the longevity of the leather, and the lack of information makes it difficult to compare to other leathers or alternatives.
It is also currently not fully biodegradable, which is a goal set out by the companies producing the material. Ultimately, mushroom leather is a new product that has yet to be fully explored, and as a result, suffers from the high costs and lack of information. Michael Meyer, Sascha Dietrich, Haiko Schulz, and Anke Mondschein, of the FILK Freiberg Institute, in Freiberg, Germany, conducted a comparison of various synthetic leathers.
In their findings, none of the alternatives came close to the characteristics leather has. While they could replicate tensile strength, tear resistance, flex resistance, or water resistance in single areas, animal leather had a much higher average overall in these categories.
How Mushroom Leather is Made
To understand how mushroom leather is made, we must look at how mycelium is produced in various fungi. Companies use mycelium cells and combine them with sawdust or other organic material. This causes the mycelium to grow in tightly wound layers to make into leather.
These sheets of mycelium are then processed like other leathers. The sheets will be sent out to various leather tanneries to be embossed or dyed in various styles.
In this detailed video from DW News, the process of mushroom leather is covered. Additionally, touching on the adoption of leather by various brands.
Production Statistics of Mushroom Leather
- Volume per year: Around 3 million square feet
- Key country or countries where it is produced: Indonesia, U.S.
- Biggest exporting country: Indonesia, U.S.
- Biggest importing country: Not enough information currently.
Cost of Mushroom Leathe
- Square Foot: $50
- ½ Hide: Not available
- Full Hide: Not available
When You Might Leathercraft With Mushroom Leather
- When producing a product for someone environmentally conscious or vegan
- If the idea of trying a leather alternative is appealing
- When needing a specific color, or pattern that must be custom ordered
Tips for Leathercrafting With Mushroom Leather
- Similar to other synthetic leathers, edges must be rolled or painted.
- Wrinkles can be ironed out with a low heat setting.
- Synthetic leathers require the surface to be painted rather than dyed.
Some Examples of Items Made From Mushroom Leather
- Yoga Mat
My Personal Research on Mushroom Leather
In an effort to obtain a better understanding of mushroom leather, I researched various companies producing it. Most of my information came from a single company, Bolt Threads. They provided not only a lengthy Q&A that I was able to review but also a TED talk on the subject.
I started by reviewing the TED talk and listened to Dan Widmaier express his process for creating mushroom leather. His goal immediately piqued my interest. It was not to create sustainable products but to create sustainable materials. Which, as a leather crafter, seemed backward. My goal is to create products that will last generations.
However, Widmaier wants to allow mushroom leather to be used in fast fashion situations to preserve the personal expression of fashion. While this idea may differ from mine, it is undoubtedly a benefit to our ecosystem. Widmaier followed with the specifics of sustainability by comparing raising cattle to growing mycelium.
Growing one kilogram of mushrooms takes less than one square meter of land. Currently, it takes 97 square meters of land to “grow” one kilogram of cow. The ability to create leather in small yet highly dense areas is revolutionary. Widmaier claims this material is ready to be adopted by the masses and continues to partner with different fashion brands to promote his goal.
More information was located on the Bolt Threads website. Immediately it showcases the various ways mushroom leather has been used in the fashion industry and a small paragraph on their production facility in the Netherlands.
An interesting note on sustainability is that producing mushroom leather has yet to be thoroughly tested. There is no current data on the environmental footprint created by mass-producing mushroom leather. However, a study is being conducted with key information set to release later this year. Although Widmaier stated this material is commercially viable, Bolt Threads continue making mushroom leather more biodegradable.
As it stands, it is not petroleum-based but does incorporate the use of plastics. Their goal is to eliminate the need for them completely, but they face issues with durability.
In his TED talk, Dan Widmaier mentioned the slow process of the widespread adoption of new materials. Mushroom leather is attempting to be the exception. Climate change, and other ecological disasters, are byproducts, due in part, to the production processes that have yet to innovate.
Mushroom leather is attempting to improve these issues over time. While we lack full information regarding mushroom leather, it is essential to view it not as an imitator but as an innovator.
Mushroom Leather Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Mushroom Leather
Mushroom leather is cleaned with cold water and a clean rag. The water should be rubbed onto the leather, removing any excess after application.
How to Condition Mushroom Leather
Mushroom leather shares the same properties as other synthetic leathers, needing no conditioner. These leathers do not dry out like animal leather and therefore require little to no maintenance.
How to Store Mushroom Leather
Unlike animal leather, mushroom leather can be stored in sunlight as the UV rays do not have the same effect. However, keeping products out of the sunlight and at a cool temperature is still recommended, as high heat could cause the leather to become dry.
Helpful Insights on Mushroom Leather
What Color is mushroom leather?
Mushroom leather can be any color. The material is extremely versatile and can be dyed in numerous colors and patterns.
Does mushroom leather last?
Unfortunately, mushroom leather is a newer vegan leather alternative that has not undergone proper long-term testing. It has, however, been tested for durability and ranks well compared to traditional leathers.
Is mushroom leather waterproof?
No, mushroom leather is not waterproof. It is water-resistant. This is due to the natural fibers of the mycelium being water-resistant. Although the leather fairs better, it is not ideal to oversaturate it with water.
Is mushroom leather breathable?
Yes, mushroom leather is breathable. Mushroom leather is more closely similar to animal leather because most other vegan leather alternatives do not breathe as well or at all.
- Information about mushroom leather is still largely unknown.
- Prices may be high due to a lack of production, but the leather can be made quicker and cheaper than animal leather.
- Mushroom leather is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than animal leather.
During an effort to be more environmentally conscious, it is important to make changes. Mushroom leather is a promising alternative to animal leather. It may provide the leather feel and look we love while also being a more sustainable product.
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