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Friday, February 3, 2023

Fungal Fashion: What is Reishi and Why is it Becoming So Popular?

A recent report regarding Natalie Portman and John Legend investing in a company called MycoWorks has been doing rounds amongst the vegan community. The company has created a vegan leather from a fungus – mushroom. Yes, you read that right! MycoWorks has raised $45 million and it will be utilising the fund to increase the scale of its operations in order to meet the rising demand for its vegan, non-plastic leather ‘Reishi’.

What is Reishi?

Remember seeing molds growing on a stale bread or a rotten vegetable? These whitish molds have long fibres known as hyphae and the complete structure of this vegetative part of the fungus is known as mycelium. Mycelium grows on organic substances and is composed of natural polymers as chitin, cellulose and proteins, making it a naturally fibrous material that can be put to various uses. As mushroom is also a type of fungus, its fibres could also be used for the same purpose, and Reishi is exactly the same thing!

reishi mycoworks
Mushrooms are being used to create vegan leather by several companies

Reishi is the first fine Mycelium biomaterial developed by MycoWorks. The company’s co-founder Phil Ross began using mycelium in the 1990s as a medium for sculpture. Now, Phil and his team of artists, engineers, biologists, production specialists and material scientists have introduced this unique material to the world.

Where is Reishi being used?

MycoWorks wants Reishi to replace all sorts of leather and lizard skins. Since the biomaterial behaves exactly like a cow hide, it can be used to make shoes, wallets, purses, handbags, belts and other products that use traditional hides or animal skins.

The company got a boost after the recent funding it received and is currently in talks with various luxury brands for its trademark product Reishi. The Reishi sheets are ‘finished by traditional European tanneries with green, chrome-free chemistry’ that provide them the required tensile strength. The end product is stronger than cowhide leather, and just as durable, as per Mycoworks.

The Biomaterial Era

Vegan leather, also called faux leather or leather alternative, is made out of biomaterials derived from plants. The trend is picking pace around the world as sustainability has become a major goal for companies in the fashion industry. Cruelty in leather factories and disposal of animal waste in water bodies have been two major issues haunting this industry. This coupled with a rise in consumer demand for ethical leather, has led to the creation of several brands selling vegan and plant-based leather. Besides MycoWorks, there are some other brands that are using fungus for creating fashion goods, such as Bolt Threads, Ananas Anam and Desserto. In India too, brands such as Malai, Arture and Achilles’ Heel have been experimenting with vegan leather alternatives to provide ethical options to customers.

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