Saturday, May 25, 2024

Mushroom Leather’s Moment Arrives At MycoWorks’ New $50 Million Facility

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Leading biomaterials tech firm, MycoWorks, has announced the upcoming launch of its pioneering fine mycelium facility in South Carolina for the production of its luxury vegan leather.

MycoWorks’ new 136,000-square-foot establishment, scheduled to begin its operations next month, promises to be a significant milestone not just for the company — but for the nascent mushroom leather category as a whole.

With more than $50 million poured into the development of the Union County facility, it will house more than 350 employees and is designed to produce millions of square feet of the company’s signature vegan leather, dubbed Reishi, annually. Reishi has emerged as an exclusive, top-tier natural material that mimics high-quality animal leather, all while having a reduced environmental footprint.

“This is the moment the luxury industry has been waiting for; a plastic-free leather alternative that offers undeniable beauty and performance—at scale,” Patrick Thomas, ex-CEO of Hermès and a board member at MycoWorks, said in a statement. He added, “Now that the challenge of supply has been solved, brands will move quickly to commercialize items made with Reishi.”

hermes victoria bag
The Hermès Victoria Voyage made from MycoWorks’ mushroom leather | Courtesy

The unique fine mycelium production procedure developed by MycoWorks fosters mycelium growth under specific conditions, resulting in the creation of Reishi sheets. These sheets are the sole leather substitutes that meet the stringent performance benchmarks set by the luxury sector. MycoWorks has been collaborating with big-name brands spanning luxury, fashion, automotive, and home furnishings, such as Hermès, Ligne Roset, Nick Fouquet, and GM.

Matt Scullin, MycoWorks’ CEO, said there have been two barriers to the decades-long search for a luxury leather alternative: “product quality and scalable manufacturing.” He elaborated, “In 2016 we eliminated the first by introducing Reishi to the world, and in September 2023 we are answering the question of scale with this state-of-the-art facility in South Carolina.”

One of the strengths of MycoWorks lies in its vertical operational approach. Instead of relying on outsourcing or licensing, the company maintains ownership of its technology stack. This end-to-end oversight of the production process has equipped MycoWorks with the comprehensive expertise required to bring this novel material class to the market.

This hasn’t been the case for the mushroom leather category as a whole, though. While demand has been high, driven by luxury labels including Hermès, Stella McCartney, and Balenciaga, among others, leading producer Bolt Threads recently announced its plans to stop production of its mycelium-based leather, Mylo. The company announced its plans to cease production last month after failing to meet recent funding targets.

Other efforts, like Ecovative’s Forager Hides, have also been slow to gain traction, despite commitments from labels including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

Nick Fouquet's mushroom leather bucket hat
Nick Fouquet’s mushroom leather bucket hat | Courtesy Aysia Stieb

Kiersten Stead, a managing partner at DCVC Bio and a board member at MycoWorks, says the company’s Fine Mycelium platform is an unprecedented advancement in materials. “Opening the doors on the first commercial-scale factory has MycoWorks poised to answer the luxury industry’s desire to craft objects with natural alternatives to leather.”

Last month, MycoWorks celebrated its ten-year anniversary with three groundbreaking products made from Fine Mycelium: Reishi Doux, Reishi Natural, and Reishi Pebble.

According to the company, these products set a new benchmark, exceeding luxury industry requirements and rivaling certain animal leather in both quality and performance. They will be among the first products made at the new South Carolina production facility.

“This is a breakthrough for the luxury industry,” Thibault Schockert, CEO of luxury leather goods enterprise Cuir du Vaudreuil, said in a statement last month. “This improvement gives us the opportunity to introduce an entirely new category to our business.”

MycoWorks co-founder Phil Ross first showcased the structural potential of mycelium in the 1990s. In 2016, the company’s prototypes of Fine Mycelium material, though soft and durable, showed limited tensile strength. Now, following years of refinement, Reishi’s performance standards have been elevated to unprecedented levels.

michael ducaroy for Ligne Roset
Ligne Roset adds mushroom leather to its offerings | Courtesy

“Heritage-level quality can only be achieved with long-term dedication to discovery, paired with a commitment to craft and the transmission of deep expertise,” Thomas says. He further emphasized how MycoWorks bridges traditional craftsmanship with scientific innovation.

Bill Morris, MycoWorks VP of Product Management, says the strength of the unique Fine Mycelium platform is “evidenced by the new levels of performance” MycoWorks achieved in the first half of this year in partnership with its European tannery partners.

Unlike other “mushroom leather” alternatives, MycoWorks’ Fine Mycelium is a genuine, grown biomaterial sheet. The company says this distinction provides “endless opportunities” for material enhancement.

“What MycoWorks has achieved with mycelium is truly unique in the history of materials,” says Maud Ohler, MycoWorks VP of Technology Development. “And while our product applications today follow standards for leather, this is just the starting point.”

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