Plant Power: Fashion's Latest Fabric Innovations


Mushrooms. Cactus skins. Pineapple husks. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was the result of a wild forest forage. Not so. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of new-gen plant-based fabrics, cultivated in science labs and used to create sought-after items, from coveted handbags to luxe sportswear.

Until now, the push for eco-friendly materials to use in luxury goods and ready-to-wear collections was limited to organic sustainable cotton, linen and hemp. But as designers from Balenciaga to Stella McCartney go to show, there are plenty of exciting new alternatives to traditional animal-derived leathers at a time when urgent action is required for the sake of the planet. As recent statistics go to show, for every tonne of animal hide tanned, almost 300KG of toxic chemicals are released into the environment, while 17,000 litres of water are required to produce just 1kg of leather.

Fashion needs to find an alternative and it needs to find it fast. Cue mycelium, nature's very own network of infinitely renewable root threads that stem from mushrooms and grow on, and under, the earth's surface. In addition to having the look and feel of cowhide, this multi-functional verified-vegan, sustainable and animal-free leather alternative, can be grown in weeks not years making it an attractive option for brands wishing to scale-up production and reduce their environmental footprint.

Mycelium courtesy of Bolt Threads

Stella McCartney first played with the idea that mushrooms are the future of fashion in her S/S 2022 womenswear collection. The Frayme Mylo™️, the world’s first commercial luxury bag is made from Mylo™️ a mycelium material developed in collaboration with California-based Bolt Threads. The must-have bag which made its debut earlier this year in limited numbers is back again this season in black with a chunky gold-tone chain. This September also sees fashion's most staunch animal welfare advocate launch her first skincare line - Stella by Stella McCartney. Rooted in nature with Stella's vegan and cruelty-free principles at its core, the range consists of just three refillable products: cleanser, after-care serum and 'restore' cream.

Meanwhile, as part of Balenciaga’s A/W 2022 collection, the luxury French brand featured a floor-length coat made with EPHEA™️. This cutting-edge mycelium-based fabric which has its roots in the vegetive body of mushrooms was developed exclusively for Balenciaga by the Italian-based fabric producer, Mogu. As a viable alternative to leather, this game-changing material was also finished with a sustainable treatment.

For A/W 2021 Mulberry introduced Eco-Scotchgrain to replace its iconic Scotchgrain material. From A/W 2022, all Scotchgrain has now been converted to this hard-wearing, lightweight fabric, the result of bio-synthetic materials repurposed from inedible cereal waste. As bags and holdalls in the upcoming S/S 2023 collection go to show, the material looks and feels the same as the original textured leather. Furthermore, each piece is crafted at its carbon-neutral factory in Somerset.

And speaking of fruit and fibre, Paul Smith has used Piñatex, otherwise known as pineapple leather, on eco sneakers, while vegan potato starch and corozo nuts are strong enough to produce buttons on chunky cardigans. Now that's what we call your fashion five a day!

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