The Future of Fashion Lies With Mushrooms

Image Credit: Mylo

From needing new clothes for a social event to shopping with friends, fashion is one of the largest and most profitable industries out there. Since the prehistoric ages, clothing has been essential. Over time, clothing trends have evolved to fit the current landscape of our society. From wanting the trendiest clothes on Tik Tok to buying quality jackets that can weather harsh winters, there are a multitude of reasons for a person to purchase clothing. This is why each year, 100 billion articles of clothing are produced.

The Popularity of Leather

One leading demand is for leather. Commonly found in jackets, belts, and luggage, leather is a fabric created by tanning (treating with certain chemicals) the hides, pelts, and skins of various animals.

Though an array of animal products can be used to create leather, these are the most common types of leather:

  • Cow leather: ideal for making solid and sturdy clothing. For example, motorcycle jackets are often made from this leather to provide a thick, more robust cover for the user.
  • Lamb leather: processed as smooth leather and is ideal for more lightweight, casual clothing. Out of all the leather, this is the most expensive one.
  • Goat leather: ideal for suede jackets, shirts, and pants.
  • Pig leather: most affordable option. It is commonly used as both suede and smooth leather. However, it is nowhere as stable as goat or lamb leather.

The Current Process For Producing Leather

Image Credit: Eco World

Once these animals have been located, a long process awaits before the leather found in clothing can be produced. Excluding the time it takes to harvest animals, creating leather can take up to 2 weeks.

First, the hides are cured by using various methods like salting to prevent deterioration. Next, the hides are soaked in water, so that they can rehydrate to remove excess salts or dirt.

Then, the hide is prepared for tanning. This entails removing the wool from sheepskin, removing hair from the pelt of raw animal skin, and removing tissue. Next, enzymes are applied to flatten and relax the pelt, while weak acids and salts help to remove excess grease. Finally, the pelt is tanned using more chemicals.

Dyeing is the next step in this lengthy process. Whichever color is desired (most commonly red or black) is applied. After that, the leather is prepped for finishing. It is lubricated with oil to ensure flexibility and softness. It is stretched and smoothed down. The leather is then dried to get rid of the 20% of the remaining water. Massaging with a staking machine will continue to ensure flexibility and softness. Finally, the flesh surface is removed to reduce overall thickness, which can weigh down the material.

The last part of the process is the actual finishing. This involves evening colors out, removing any defects, fixing the gloss, and adding a protective and water-resistance coat. At this point, the leather is ready to be made into products like jackets.

The Benefits & Drawbacks of Animal Leather

The fashion industry continues to use leather for a variety of reasons. For one, it is breathable. This means air passes through easily to allow the body to regulate temperature. It is also quite durable and outlives synthetic material and cotton (another popular clothing fabric). Leather is also water-resistant, easy to clean, and has become a popular style.

However, leather production comes with several casualties, which can be divided into 3 main categories:

  • Animal Cruelty: Aside from skinning animals, many are not treated well even before the point of producing leather. In many cases, baby animals are skinned since they can be used to produce softer fabric.
  • Pollution: Within leather production, many harmful and toxic substances are utilized. Most leather is chrome-tanned, which is a process of tanning that uses chromium III salts. This substance is considered hazardous by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Each year, tanneries create 800,000 tons of chrome shavings, much of which contain chromium.
  • Human Health: Chemicals used in leather production can harm human health and increase the risk of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that leukemia among residents living near a Kentucky tannery was 5 times higher than the national average. Arsenic, a common chemical used in the process, is associated with various cancers and is regularly exposed to workers. Studies found that leather-tannery workers in Sweden and Italy had a 20-50% higher risk of cancer.

The Potential of Mushroom Leather

Mushroom leather is made from mycelium, a part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony.

The mycelium is specifically made of a mass of thread-like hyphae, which are long branching filaments that make up the mycelium of the fungus. Its appearance heavily resembles a matrix. It includes structural polymers like chitin that are naturally produced by the fungi and natural macromolecules that can be used to build modern materials.

This part of the fungi helps the soil capture and store carbon through its symbiotic relationship with plants. Furthermore, it helps with fungal growth. Fungal colonies made of mycelium can be found in and on soil as the mycelium supports the fungi underneath the Earth. When mushrooms appear above ground, they are really interconnected by a web of mycelium just below surface level.

The Easy Task of Creating Mushroom Leather

Taking less than 3 weeks to mature, the mycelium cells (known as substrate) are first harvested on a bed of sawdust or organic material that spread out to form a cohesive web.

Image Credit: BioFabForum

The cells will grow by extending fibers called hyphae when fed a source cellulose-rich nutrient like corn stover. This is usually done with controlled temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels, so that the mycelium becomes a dense fibrous network. Networks that look like the fibrous network in a non-woven mat mimic leather.

The Push For Mushroom Leather in Fashion

Aside from being environmentally friendly, mushroom leather does not require livestock. Moreover, there is an abundance of mycelium found in soil, plant bodies, and along river beds, making it infinitely renewable. It also grows quickly and quite expansively. Waste from the manufacturing process can be reused in items, such as crop fertilizer. For those who want to get rid of their mycelium leather product, it will biodegrade over time instead of rotting like animal hide. Overall, mycelium leather emits fewer greenhouse gases and uses much less water.

Aside from this, it also has a highly effective production process. Compared to the 2–3 years it would take just to harvest animals, growing mycelium takes between 2–3 weeks. During the dyeing process, the material’s texture and color are made to look and feel like animal leather. An added bonus is that there is no need for profuse amounts of salt and chemicals to prevent disintegration during production.

The Future of Fashion Lies With Mushrooms

All in all, mushroom leather has the potential to completely eradicate the need for animal leather. In doing so, it would lessen the harmful effects of currently-used leather and animal leather production on the environment, animals, and humans. As we enter an era where icebergs melt in the Arctic and people suffer from food insecurity, we, as a society, must come together to save our planet.

References & Resources to Learn More

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