What is the future of fashion? In 2019, fashion journalist Dana Thomas set out to answer this question with her book, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and The Future of Clothes. In her research, Thomas came across alternative processes that were being put into place to improve the unsustainable system that has wreaked havoc on the earth for centuries: from using organic dyeing techniques for denim and 3D printing to cut back on potential waste, she found that the upcoming years are ripe for improvement. One of these techniques was the development of leather substitutes.
While fake leather has the unfortunate image of being cheaply made, recent years have seen innovation in this realm. One of these innovations is the development of mycelium as an alternate option. Mycelium is a component of the structure of wild mushrooms. “The mycelium grows in a tray until it is about three inches thick and spongy as a marshmallow. It is then compressed, dyed, and because it is a living organism, tanned (using a sustainably certified process) to [make sure it won’t rot],” wrote Thomas in the book. Stella McCartney was an early proponent in the use of mycelium, and today, in partnership with biomaterials company MycoWorks, another major fashion player announced they were joining in on sustainability efforts: Hermés.
Founded in 2013 by Philip Ross and Sophia Wang, MycoWorks is a company with a focus on developing new mycelium materials. Exclusive to the group is “fine mycelium”, which is a patented system that augments the material’s natural ability to combine itself and other substances. This breakthrough is behind what MycoWorks calls reishi, which is a step up from vegan leather or mushroom leather (merely compressed mycelium). This development (along with a cool $45,000,000 raised in series B financing) has allowed them to work with Hermés.
Working together for three years now, Hermés and MycoWorks produced an object made with fine mycelium: an alternative to leather termed “Sylvania” which was made in the MycoWorks development facility. The material was tanned and finished in France by Hermès before being shaped in the maison’s atelier to form the Victoria bag, which is usually made with Clemence leather, taken from a baby bull calf.
“MycoWorks’ vision and values echo those of Hermès: a strong fascination with natural raw material and its transformation, a quest for excellence, with the aim of ensuring that objects are put to their best use and that their longevity is maximized. With Sylvania, Hermès is at the heart of what it has always been: innovation in the making,” says Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermés Artistic Director.
The bag will reportedly be available by the end of the year.