We are firm believers that the future of fashion has to be in sustainable, eco-friendly materials and designs. From fabric created with recycled PET bottles, to man-made spider silk, conscious designers have been experimenting with various non-polluting, biodegradable fabrics with low environmental footprints in their designs.
Fabric made from fungi is one of the newest additions to this list of sustainable innovations. This futuristic fabric is interesting in many ways. Generated in a lab, it is strong, durable and can be mended easily. It is skin-friendly and doesn’t need sewing. And the scope of the fabric doesn’t end there…
How Can Fabric Be Made From Fungus?
Fabric made from fungus is created by a technical process known as Bio-fabrication. This is the process of growing materials from small organisms like bacteria and fungi, and is a revolutionary and fast-growing sphere of science. The most exciting part of this concept for me, is how it’s bringing fashion closer to biology, as scientists and designers work closely to create clever fashion solutions.
Different material combinations are used to create different types of fabrics from fungus. One of these is growing it from Mycelium—the vegetable part of mushrooms. Muskin is one such fabric, and is a possible substitute for animal leather and suede, and has already been used in accessories, bags and shoes.
The Dutch fashion designer Aniela Hoitink created a showstopper dress with a fabric called MycoTEX, which is made from mushroom root. She used petri dishes to supply nutrients and grow the root of a common mushroom into discs. The discs are then overlapped to form a thin fabric that is shaped into a dress on a mannequin. The advantage of this fabric is that the dress comes together without sewing. Tears and holes are altered by simply placing patches over the hole, and covering up the damage easily.
Mycelium can also be grown into fabric by breeding it in a suitable environment composed of tree mulch and agricultural waste. As well as the sustainably sourced raw material, the method requires a tiny amount of energy. The process is similar to fermenting, and different designers have used substances like green tea, sugar, yeast and bacteria to make a variety of fungi fabrics.
Characteristics Of The Fabric
Fabric created from Mycelium is non-toxic, waterproof and fire-resistant. Since only the root is used for the construction, it lacks spores and doesn’t continue to grow (although I personally think that would be awesome). The thin textile feels like paper, but is flexible and comfortable to wear.
The material is anti-microbial and is suitable for sensitive skin. The fabric is also good for the environment as no toxic chemicals or fertilisers are involved in the production. Additionally, it uses very little water. For the production of her MycoTEX dress, Hoitink used only 12 litres of water. To put that into context – the production of a cotton t-shirt uses almost 2500 litres of water!
Another desirable environmental benefit is that it is easy to dispose of the dress when you do not need it anymore. The biodegradable properties ensure that the fabric returns to the earth without causing any pollution.
Designers who have used fabric from fungus in their designs
I already introduced you to Aniela Hoitink, who used MycoTEX from mushroom root in her innovative design, however she isn’t the only one who has tapped into the interesting world of creating fabric from fungi.
Another interesting example of someone exploring this fabric to the full is artist in residence at Microsoft Research, Erin Smith, who produced her own wedding dress using tree mulch and mycelium. She sets a fine example for sensible fashion choices, which are both sustainable and stylish. Smith decided to make her own wedding dress after concluding that wedding dresses were an expensive investment that would be used just once.
Another notable designer is Suzanne Lee (I talked about her amazing tea fabric in my last post!). She is the director of Biocouture, a company driven by the idea of creating fashion with microbe fabrics. Biocouture works with brands to apply the technology of bio-fabrication to sportswear and luxury products. Lee is also the CCO at Modern Meadow, a progressive company that focuses on providing a viable leather alternative to animal hides by growing and engineering fibres made from collagen in their lab to form leather-like material structures.
Lee is also the founder of Biofabricate, an international bio-tech conference that explores the potential of bio-fabrication. Although they touched upon a number of ideas, growing structures from fungi was the core topic last years conference. One of the companies attending was Ecovative, a truly exciting company that has developed mushroom-based material alternatives to so many things, including perhaps most notably, styrofoam! Their mushroom foam has been developed into a range of products including packaging, insulation and sound proofing, and buoys and floating rafts.
Most exciting of all however is that they offer the chance to purchase their GIY Mushroom® Material, which is a mixture of mycelium and corn stalks/ husks and the guidance on how to grow your own masterpiece!
One designer using this material is Danielle Trofe, a lighting designer who has grown and developed her latest collection called MushLume from Ecovative’s materials.
Challenges Of Using Fabric Made From Fungus
The environmental benefits of this fabric are pretty obvious. However, there are certain factors that challenge the scope of this product. Firstly, the current manufacturing process is time-consuming and laborious. While Erin Smith took a whole week to grow her dress, Susanne Lee’s method requires anywhere between two and four weeks to complete. This aspect can make it very difficult to create fabric on a commercial-scale for production needs.
The other factor is acceptance by consumers. Since the raw material is basically waste, not everyone is excited about fungus-grown clothes. If consumers are educated to overcome their aversion and instead recognize the unique benefits of this fabric, it is likely that fabric from fungus will be a lasting solution for many of our sustainable fashion needs.
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