• Otávio Santiago

This realistic mushroom ‘leather’ is ready for commercial production

I’m holding a small square piece of what looks like leather. The front of the fabric feels like leather, soft and pebbled; it even smells slightly like leather. But the material, called Mylo, is made from mycelium, the root-like part of mushrooms. By the end of next year, for the first time, it will be produced at a commercial scale, in a facility that can make as much as a million square feet a year.

That’s still a very tiny fraction of the amount of leather made from animals. But it could be the start of a viable industry—one that can take on the environmental impact of leather or fake leather made from plastic. “When we look at leather, it’s a massive industry, like 35 billion square feet per year. And the net output of the alternatives rounds to about zero,” says Dan Widmaier, founder and CEO of Bolt Threads, the biotech materials startup that makes Mylo. “If we’re really going to make a dent in this problem that we call climate change, we better be able to go really fast.”

The company chose to work with mycelium in part because it was feasible to make in huge quantities. A large number of mushroom farms already exist—unlike, for example, the infrastructure needed to grow “lab-grown” leather from animal cells. In a very rough back-of-the-envelope calculation, Widmaier estimated that if all of the world’s current mushroom farms were converted to making mycelium for its leather, it would likely be possible to replace all of the leather on the planet. For now, as the startup grows, it’s working with mushroom farmers who want to diversify from food crops to make more money.

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