New Vegan Leather Alert: Mushroom!

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

We’ve covered plastic, cork, cotton, paper, and cactus based vegan leathers. The next trend we have spotted is highly sustainable and already is a meat replacement for many vegetarians. We are talking mushrooms!

Enjoy this read and, as always, click the numbers in square brackets to check out all the references!

The white "roots" are the material used to make the leather. Photo from Bolt Threads.

How is it made?

The leather is called mycelium leather. Mycelium is the white network of filaments (roots) that you usually find below a mushroom, not the actual little cap itself.

Once the producers grow enough mycelium they harvest it and add dyes and some chemicals to help bind the product. Then they compress it into long sheets, dry it, and finally they can emboss it with a print to look more like leather. They can also leave it the way it is as that texture itself it quite similar to leather.

Mycelium is naturally antifungal and antibacterial and it looks like it keeps these properties even after being processed [i]!

After having been compressed the leather is ready to be embossed. Photo from Bolt Threads.

What kind of environmental impact is there from mycelium leather?

Growing the mushrooms is considered “carbon neutral” because it takes minimal energy to grow them and they are often grown on agricultural waste [ii]. Mycelium grows quickly (we are talking weeks) and takes up less space than grazing cattle or growing more traditional plants. It can also be grown indoors in more industrial areas and doesn’t need to be competing with agricultural spaces.

Mushrooms need to be cool, dark, and tightly packed to grow. They can grow in regular warehouses!

I wasn’t able to find the details on what exactly gets added to the mycelium in production (I guess companies want to keep it all secret since it’s new tech). Every article and company bio I read said that the leather is fully biodegradable.

Companies who have been producing mycelium leather say that it is as durable as animal leathers (couldn’t find any third party testing on this yet). I think it is unlikely that it will have the longevity of animal leathers but only time will tell!

What does it look like?

It looks great! It comes in a number of different colours and can have textures imprinted into it to look even more like leather. I read a description of the texture as “suede-like” except when it is treated with wax to waterproof it which changes the feel slightly.