While leather has been a fashionable material for centuries, its cultivation is growing more costly between the costs of raising cattle, the toxic tanning process for hide and the perception of slaughtering an animal. Inspired by these concerns and looking to keep the feel and look of leather en vogue, companies like Mycoworks have looked to mushrooms for alternative materials.
Phil Ross, artist and founder of the company, is working to “grow” leather from mycelium, the dense root portion of mushrooms. Much like cow hide, mycelium is the flesh of a mushroom. Through manipulation of temperature and humidity, Ross’ company has figured out a means by which to make substances that mirror the leather derived from cow, snake and ostrich. In addition to closely resembling actual leather, Ross’ approach costs less energy, makes less of an environmental impact and is biodegradable.
The mycelium is also free to be worked with while it is still growing. This flexibility means that designers can naturally add components like fish-eye rings and zippers without the need for stitching or changing textures. Ross remarks that his company is an example of how art can spawn an entire industry, quipping that many artists can survive if their work is more valuable to businesses than for their inherent artistic quality.
Ross has been crafting mycelia pieces for three decades. While initially drawn to reichi mushrooms for medicinal qualities, Ross soon learned that a diet of sawdust and other wastes could nudge their development into solid, workable materials.