What is mushroom leather, and can I eat it?

The real vegan leather alternative you need to know about.

Leather – the beautiful and natural material we’ve had in our wardrobes since around 5000 BC. Yet in recent years, there has been some controversy over the ethical and environmental concerns regarding the production of this luxurious material.


Many ‘vegan’ leather alternatives have come into popularity, but are they really a better solution? Today we’re unpacking this issue, and focusing on our favourite sustainable leather alternative - mushroom leather.


WHAT IS MUSHROOM LEATHER?

Mushroom leather is the latest vegan alternative that was smashing headlines throughout 2021. Unlike traditional vegan leather (commonly called PU or PVC) which is essentially made from plastic, this plant based leather is made from– you guessed it– mushrooms. And no, we’re not talking about your everyday portobello mushrooms you get from your local Sobey’s. Mushroom leather is made from the fungi’s mycelium, which is essentially a web of underground threads that absorb nutrients and are responsible for the growth of the mushrooms. Sheets of mycelium are grown by expert mushroom farmers in indoor vertical farming facilities and then processed by scientists. Before the material is processed, it looks like sheets of squished marshmallows (but less tasty, trust us).


While mushroom material research has been happening for several years, there have been incredible recent innovations in mushroom leather, with companies like Mylo being able to replicate the look, feel, and texture of full grain leather.



BUT HOW SUSTAINABLE IS IT REALLY?

Mushroom leather is an infinitely renewable resource which requires almost no water to produce. All that’s needed is some sawdust, organic matter, and humidity, and like natural mushrooms, this material will begin to grow on its own. Compared to animal leather, it is far less water and land intensive, and the average time from growth to processing is just a couple weeks, as opposed to livestock which can take years.


Mushroom leather is also pretty much zero waste, as anything not being used can easily be composted, since it's all organic materials.


Considering that it's a fairly new material, there has not been an independent study done on its environmental impact, but Mylo is planning to have an external sustainability audit done this year, and will share the results openly with the world – hello transparency!


As creative (and scientific) minds continue to come up with innovative ideas to combat our unsustainable practices, we are thrilled to see the rise of this unique and truly vegan leather alternative. We love being able to opt for a sustainable alternative while not having to compromise the texture and more importantly the quality and durability of animal leather.




DOES VEGAN = ECO-FRIENDLY?

Being vegan must mean its good for the environment, right? Unfortunately in most cases, we have been victims of greenwashing. While the industry is moving in the right direction, it’s important to recognize that most vegan leathers available today are just putting a different type of strain on the environment. They may not be harmful to animals, but the chemicals, resources, and energy used to produce mainstream vegan leathers (read: plastics) are just as bad, if not worse. Next time you’re shopping for vegan leather, look a little deeper than just the name. Is it made from synthetic materials, which will just end up in landfills in a few years? Or is it a plant based option such as pineapple leather, cactus leather, or mushroom leather? It’s no longer enough to simply look for the vegan branding, because “vegan” does not mean “sustainable”.



WHERE TO PURCHASE MUSHROOM LEATHER

If you’re as excited as we are, you may be wondering where you can get your hands on some mushroom leather. While Hermés was one of the first brands to use this material, other brands pioneering this idea include LuluLemon, Stella McCartney, and Adidas. It is still in the testing and development stages, but keep your eyes out for it hitting the market later this year, as we can’t wait for more brands to adopt sustainable and innovative textiles like this.




Now for the million dollar question…

I’m sure it crossed your mind, like it did ours, but is it edible? Sadly no, your newest mushroom leather handbag isn’t a snack to go, but that doesn’t mean it can’t carry one.


Do you want to be a part of a sustainable future that still includes leather? We thought so. Mushroom leather is just the beginning, and we can’t wait to see what’s yet to come in building a more sustainable future and industry!