That next calf-length boot you buy may be made of mushrooms instead of calfskin.
As fashion companies look to ditch environmentally dirty materials like leather, they're turning to potential plant-based substitutes in bigger numbers. And investors are racing to back the companies coming to meet the growing demand from fashion houses.
That's why a company like MycoWorks, the California-based startup that's spent the last several years working on ways to make mushroom materials which have the same texture, feel, and properties as leather can raise big money.
On Thursday the business announced a $125 million round of funding to bring its mycelial materials to the masses.
The company counts Natalie Portman and John Legend among its backers along with big tech investors like Prime Movers Lab (a tech investment fund), SK Networks (a massive South Korean industrial conglomerate), and Mirabaud Lifestyle Impact and Innovation Fund (a big money manager for very rich people).
With the new cash, MycoWorks will build out a full-scale production plant for its flagship "Reishi" branded mycelial material.
Already a pilot plant in Emeryville, Calif. has managed to churn out 10,000 trays of processed leather.
"We are thrilled to partner with new and returning investors who have deep experience in manufacturing scale-up. MycoWorks’ Fine Mycelium platform produces the world’s highest-quality, leather-like material via a proprietary process that we own and operate,” said Matt Scullin, CEO of MycoWorks, in a statement. “As the only vertically-integrated biomaterials company in the new materials space, we will use this capital to continue growing our leadership position.”
MycoWorks may bill itself as the only "vertically-integrated biomaterials company" in the market, but it's. far from the only company making these materials. Companies like Bolt Threads and Ecovative (which use mushrooms), Ananas Anam (using pineapple fibers), and Desserto (making cactus leather) — are all trying to replace leather and address the pleather problem.
See, most leather replacements these days are made from fossil fuel-based materials. Those are as bad for the environment as the industrial leather industry. Plant-based fabrics -- if they can be made to be as durable as leather -- offer a potential solution.
"MycoWorks makes the only product that we have found that resembles animal leather's quality, and they are producing it on a highly scalable platform. We are excited to partner to manufacture Fine Mycelium materials on a global scale," said Ho Jeong Lee, Executive Vice President of SK Networks.