JUL 17, 2016 6:15 AM PDT

Mushroom made: a new twist on clothing

Have you ever thought about mixing up your wardrobe? What about mixing it up to the extent of clothes made from mushrooms?
A purse made from mushrooms. Photo: MuSkin
Right now there are several cutting edge technologies on the market and in the fabrication process of developing mushroom-made materials. This includes mushroom “leather,” and “suede,” such as that produced by MuSkin, a company that makes 100% biodegradable vegetal leather by extracting and “tanning” mushroom caps. However it goes beyond just mushrooms. Erin Smith, artist in residence at Microsoft Research, went so far as to brew her own wedding dress using a combination of tree mulch and mycelium.

“I think the ability for us to grow our own clothing could have great positive potential,” says Smith. “Growing clothing from scratch could both eliminate carbon emissions caused by transportation and allow for a garment that can be grown to your precise dimensions and specifications. It’s essential that consumers become more aware of the continued lifespan of their things once they’ve been thrown away,” she says. “Any object made from materials that will outlive its intended use is a part of our global waste problem.”

The mycelium Smith used for her dress was bred in a tub of agricultural waste requiring very little added energy. Once the dress had been worn, it could be composted in the garden. She made the decision to grow her own dress because she didn’t want her wedding to be dictated by tradition and to have to wear something that would just sit in her wardrobe after the event.

Smith’s decision touches on several of the less fabulous points of the clothing industry - its horrendous energy consumption, as well as its reliance on extreme quantities of water. According to WWF, it can take up to 20,000 liters of water to produce just one T-shirt and a pair of jeans. In an experiment done by a team at the University of Western Australia in 2004, researchers produced Scoby Tec’s biker jacket brewed from kombucha (a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast) and claimed that only 60 liters of water were required for one square metre of its leather.
Scoby Tec's biker jacket. Photograph: Marcel Wiessler

The options for biological clothing seem to be vast. Bioalloy, a research project based in the labs at the University of Western Australia, produced a garment from alcohol using fibrous cellulose created by introducing bacteria into red wine. MycoWorks is another company that turns mycelium and agricultural byproducts into leather through a carbon-negative (and animal free) process. Check out the video on the bottom of the homepage on their site to watch how their idea started! The following video is from yet another mushroom start up, focusing on building structures instead of clothing. 

Sources: The Guardian, MycoWorks, MuSkin, WWF
About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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