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Fashion Trends Are Often Recycled. Now More Clothing Can Be, Too.

  • January 26, 2021

Several companies, for example, are developing alternatives to leather, since hides are particularly problematic, from the methane-producing cows that produce it to tanning methods that often involve toxic chemicals like chromium. Vegan leather, despite its environmentally friendly name, is no better because it uses plastic, said Theanne Schiros, a materials scientist and an assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

One alternative is mushroom leather, which relies on mycelium, or mushroom roots, to produce an animal-free alternative. Mycelium has been used for thousands of years in a variety of ways, Dr. Schiros said, even to dress wounds, but entrepreneurs and designers have set their sights higher.

In addition to Bolt Threads, a fiber and material producer that gained attention last fall when it announced its product and collaboration with several designers, others companies, like Mycoworks, are developing “leathers” from mycelium.

Mycowork’s chief executive, Matthew Scullin, said that while the company was exploring uses in automotive upholstery, the current emphasis was on apparel and footwear.

F.I.T.’s Dr. Schiros is part of a team at Columbia University working on a bioleather alternative; the latest prototype, she said, is “a naturally dyed, microbe-grown sneaker that is a part of Slow Factory’s One x One initiative,” referring to the nonprofit that works on sustainability and climate issues.

The pandemic has forced her to work from home, rather than at a lab, but she has found a clever workaround.

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