Why There is so ‘Much Room’ for Fungi in Fashion

30 May 2022 by Liam Goldsworthy
blog author

Walking the catwalk draped in Stella McCartney garments made from mushrooms sounds more rustic than radical – but this is meaningful, ethical fashion at its finest.

The fashion industry is constantly criticised, and rightly so, for its negative impact on the environment with the industry responsible for emitting up to 10 per cent of global CO2, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the fashion industry also accounts for a fifth of plastic produced globally each year (we’re talking about 300 million tons), with synthetic fibres such as polyester posing a serious hazard to marine life, as they contribute to microplastic pollution.

Despite this, a shift towards ‘slow fashion’ by an increasingly conscious consumer base, coupled with greater in-industry collaboration, and the rise of innovative alternative materials start-ups, provide hope for industry transformation.

This is where UK fashion designer Stella McCartney steps in to recognise the mushroom and showcase its versatility in her Summer 2022 campaign, after gaining inspiration from the documentary Fantastic Fungi. The documentary explores the potential of these fascinating organisms, ranging from psilocybin treatments (psilocybin is a hallucinogenic chemical in certain mushrooms growing in Europe, South America, Mexico and the United States)for cancer and mental health conditions, to breaking down waste and oil spills through a method called my core mediation (fungi remediation)and fighting climate change. 

According to research from the Mushroom Council, growing mushrooms generates considerably less carbon dioxide (CO2) than other types of vegetables and requires less land compared to other agricultural practices. Often underrated due to lack of knowledge and awareness, fungi are present everywhere around us – even in the air – yet as much as 90 per cent remain undocumented, despite the vital role they play in preserving Earth’s ecosystems.

Most fungi exist as mycelium, networks of tubular cells, as mushrooms are just the reproductive structure of fungi. Mycelium is regenerative and thrives in abundance in the wild. In microfabrication, mycelium is used to create everything from biodegradable building materials to vegan alternatives for animal leather such as Bolt Threads’ Mylo™️. 

Stella McCartney’s Frayme Mylo™️ is the world’s first-ever luxury bag crafted exclusively from this verified vegan, certified bio-based mycelium leather alternative – available to purchase later this year. Realistic, yet free from plastic, it helps reduce the use of petroleum-based products and does not contribute to animal agriculture (which is responsible for around 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to the destruction of vital ecosystems such as the Amazon). 

While a staggering 17,000 litres of water are used to produce just a kilo of leather (as well as years to raise the cattle), Mylo™️ is a state-of-the-art process that takes days to produce.

Merlin Sheldrake, my biologist and author of Entangled Life, has supported Stella McCartney through the fungi exploration which includes collaborations for mushroom culinary events with globally renowned chefs, synthesiser music created from the sounds of fungi growing by Cosmo Sheldrake and this season’s hand-drawn print, emblazoned on luxury wallpaper by British heritage fabrics house Cole & Son. 

In addition, key pieces from the Summer 2022 collection feature hand-drawn mushroom prints on fringed trousers and shrunken waistcoats, contrasted with biophilic cut-out pieces on knit tops and dresses, all to champion the beauty of nature and the magic of mushrooms. 

Stella McCartney, a lifelong vegetarian, said: “If we want to save all our skins from the consequences of the climate and biodiversity crises, we need to stop fashion’s use of animal leather and furs. Mushrooms present a vegan alternative that can be grown regeneratively, renewably and quickly. How can you not be obsessed with these fantastic fungi?!”

Liam Goldsworthy, Principal Consultant, and sector lead for Fashion and Luxury Goods at Acre, said: Mylo™️ is among many regenerative, natural materials being explored by companies across fashion and luxury, to address and reduce the biodiversity impacts of raw material supply chains across the sector.

"More than ever, we’re seeing brands collaborate with innovative startups, research institutions, as well as their competitors to create business models for the scalable roll-out of these innovative plant-based, alternative materials. The versatility of the mushroom, highlighted by the latest Stella McCartney collection, as well as its use in plant-based food alternatives, and mental health science, is a clear demonstration of the multiple benefits we can gain by ‘returning to nature’.”

Liam leads permanent and contract & interim sustainability search with UK & APAC consumer & personal goods organisations, spanning food and beverage, luxury and apparel sectors. This includes placements with FTSE 100 organisations, large privately-owned businesses, SMEs, and the service providers and non-profits that engage across the sector.

Liam also manages Acre’s charitable arm; the Acre Foundation, which supports charities and initiatives that deliver a positive social or environmental impact aligned to Acre’s values.