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Apr 26, 2023

Vegan fashion Ep.2: Dear brands, it’s time to invest in fungi (and more)

With several brands having gone fur-free, vegan fashion could be the next step. So, biomaterials replacing real leather could be the next big thing in fashion. Read how cactus-, plant- or mycelium-based alternatives are here to shape the future of sustainable and ethical luxury.


Promoting the integration between chemistry and agriculture, Italian company Vegea develops plant-based alternatives to fully synthetic oil-derived materials 
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Un post condiviso da VEGEA (@vegeacompany)

Our sustainable textile revolution continues with wine. Established in Milan in 2016 to develop new eco-sustainable products, the Italian company Vegea was the first manufacturer to make vegan-coated fabric from pomace: the residue of the vinification made up of grape skins and seeds. This innovative material is obtained from waste fibres without using petroleum and pollutants, without consuming water and, of course, without killing animals. In addition, the high quality and robustness make it similar to animal skin. In 2017, the company tapped the emerging eco-designer Tiziano Guardini to test their material by creating the first collection, which included accessories (from shoes to bags) and garments.


Cactus-based biomaterials? Adriano Di Marti’s company has developed an environmentally friendly alternative to leather  
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Un post condiviso da DESSERTO (@desserto.pelle)

I cannot fail to mention Desserto, a breathable, soft and luminous vegan alternative to leather made from nopal (a cactus). It is the brainchild of Mexican creators Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, who decided to leave their jobs and establish Adriano Di Marti to focus on developing Desserto, which they successfully showcased in October 2019 in Milan, Italy. At the forefront of innovation, this highly sustainable plant-based material consists of up to 90% vegetable and organic raw ingredients obtained from cacti, without toxic chemicals, phthalates and PVC.


Can mushrooms change the way we perceive, wear and consume fashion? They can, and they do, from San Francisco to Denmark  
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Un post condiviso da MycoWorks (@mycoworks)

And what about mushrooms? The idea of making a vegan-friendly leather-like material from mushrooms dates to the Nineties: MycoWorks co-founder and San Francisco artist Philip Ross began cultivating mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus, as a material for art and design. Ross’s materials research launched the field of mycotecture, a term he coined in 2008 to describe the art of designing and building with mycelium. While his mycelium artworks and installations were being exhibited at MoMA, worldwide interest in his inventions led to partnerships with brands looking for innovative, sustainable materials. So, he invited his long-time artistic collaborator, Sophia Wang, to start a company. After establishing MycoWorks in 2013, they converted Ross’s art studio into a workshop laboratory. In 2016, they began developing an advanced mycelium material that looked and felt like premium leather, which would become the genesis for Reishi Fine Mycelium. 


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Un post condiviso da Mylo™ (@mylo_unleather)

California-based materials innovations company Bolt Threads has created Mylo, a soft, supple and less environmentally damaging material that the company’s experienced executives from the technology and apparel industries describe as “everything you love about leather, without everything you don’t.” When discussing their desire to transform materials into products that solve the problems of a resource-constrained world, they pointed out: “To make Mylo, we have engineered a process to grow mycelium in a vertical farming facility powered by 100% renewable energy and transformed it into a material that looks and feels like animal leather.” The buzz surrounding this novel material as an alternative to high-quality leather was so enormous that in October 2020, Adidas, Stella McCartney, Lululemon and Gucci’s parent company Kering came together to create a business consortium and invest in Mylo.


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Un post condiviso da @jonasedvardstudio

Initiated in 2012, The Mycelium textile project: MYX by Danish designer Jonas Edvard started as research into the properties of living materials. His website reports, “By combining natural elements, organic materials and plant-based structures, Edvard explores how a mycelium-based composite structure and combinations thereof are usable in applied design experiments.” Over a period of 2 weeks, the growth of the mycelium has conquered the organic plant material and stabilised the raw substrate materials, allowing the mycelium to cover the whole structure with a smooth skin, which can be modified into a rigid or flexible form.  


In Italy, GZE-Grado Zero Espace is leading the way in defining new mushroom applications to imagine the future of alternative leather. A connector among industrial sectors and pure research institutes, GZE is a trademark of Pangaia Grado Zero, a research organisation specialising in transferring materials and technologies from extreme sectors, such as aerospace or medical-surgical, into everyday use. They developed Muskin, a 100 % vegetable alternative to animal leather. “It is completely animal and oil-free,” the experts at Grado Zero Espace explained. “It comes from the Phellinus ellipsoideus, a kind of big parasitic fungus that grows in the wild and attacks the trees in the subtropical forests. The absence of toxic and chemical substances involved in its production makes Muskin ideal for close-to-skin applications. Its natural origin and the presence of natural penicillin substances limits bacteria proliferation.”


Above, I have just listed a few of the revolutionary products made from natural and eco-friendly materials you can find on the market. More and more eco-conscious brands and designers are trying to reduce their environmental impact, driving consumers towards animal-free and more sustainable products.

And nature seems to be doing its part by providing alternative materials to help humans embrace the sustainable philosophy.


Simona Schiappucci
Design Methods, Collection Development and Accessories Design Tutor, Milan