When it comes to systemic innovation, the fashion industry lags behind the speed of its supply chains where ideas are outpaced by (piles of) stuff. It’s why as benign a concept as organic cotton has yet to take hold as standard practice rather than something that’s encouraged or simply good for business. But a first-of-its-kind invention might help convince a generation of customers unsure of the viability of ethically inspired style, yet spellbound by newness, that what’s good for the planet is good for their closet. Behold, fashion’s Edison moment: mycelium.
Who else to thrust fabric science mainstream than the pioneer of luxury sustainability herself Stella McCartney. The British designer’s latest green feat is a partnership with Bay Area-based biotechnology company Bolt Threads on garments made out of Mylo™, or: a vegan, sustainable, animal-free leather alternative made from mushrooms. The garments, a black bustier top and utilitarian trousers, aren’t just fit for post-quarantine freedom but they’re entirely cruelty-free (a signature of most of McCartney’s offerings). Though the garments aren’t for sale, McCartney and co. assure that future lab-made leather goods will soon debut on their London runways.
“I believe the Stella community should never have to compromise luxury desirability for sustainability, and Mylo allows us to make that a reality,” McCartney says of her latest collaboration with Bolt Threads, via press release. “These rare, exclusive pieces embody our shared commitment with Bolt Threads to innovate a kinder fashion industry—one that sees the birth of beautiful, luxurious materials as opposed to the deaths of our fellow creatures and planet.”
And if you’re wondering how exactly mushrooms can be made wearable, you’re not alone. To start: Mylo is bio-based, meaning it’s mostly made from renewable ingredients that anyone can go outside and find in nature right now. Mycelium, the infinitely renewable underground root-like system of fungi, is regenerative and thrives on feeding off of natural resources. Scientists have found a way to grow mycelium in a lab using mulch, air, and water—in just a matter of days, at that, which should expand our idea of fast-fashion as we know it.
Bolt Threads founder Dan Widmaier sees Mylo as an opportunity, an achievement for the realm of biomaterials: “Creating new, high-quality biomaterials is a major technological challenge… This is tangible progress toward large-scale production where Mylo can make a significant positive impact on our planet.”
The state-of-the-art process is one of many milestones on the journey toward creating fashion with minimal to zero environmental and social impact. Other solutions include carbon negative (and “climate positive”) production lines, the ongoing revolution toward equal pay for all, a renewed love for hand-me-downs (aptly known as upcycling), virtual fashion shows, and more. Even Hermés, which is ubiquitously known for its quality of leather goods, is also betting on mycelium.
For now, as ever, McCartney remains committed to keeping fossil fuels in the ground, plastics out of the ocean, and creating a kinder fashion industry overall. What that means for customers outside of the luxury market remains to be seen. Should the industry’s biggest polluters transition to Mylo-made and other biomaterial items, the use of fungi in fashion—and cars, furniture, and more—could wield as much influence as hemp or recycled ocean plastic (imperfect as they may be). Could mushrooms have been fashion’s missing ingredient all this time?