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Making leather from mushrooms

September 16, 2020

An Indonesian startup is just one company making an ecofriendly leatherlike material from fungi. There is optimism that plant-based textiles could make the fashion industry more sustainable.

Person making mushroom leather
Image: DW/A.B. Rodhial Falah

Indonesia: Mushroom leather fashion

Project goal: To create an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to leather, in this case using fungi.

Project partner: Indonesian startup Mycotech is supported through universities, research institutions and the DBS Foundation. In 2019/2020, the company also received from funding from the SEED Initiative (Supporting Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development) and the German Environment Ministry's Interational Climate Initiative.

Project budget: Mycotech has received $500,000 in funding since 2017.

Humankind has been using animal skin to produce leather for thousands of years. It's a textile with a long tradition, but critics say making it causes animal suffering, consumes a lot of water, and pollutes the environment with chemicals and CO2.

Adi Reza Nugroho wants to change that with his startup Mycotech, based in Bandung, Indonesia. Nugroho comes from a family of mushroom farmers and is using fungi to make a vegan, leatherlike alternative to the animal-based textile.

According to the company, founded in 2012, the material is breathable, robust and grows using agricultural waste such as sawdust. The waste is mixed with fungi spores, which form mycelium — a fine branching mass of threadlike structures. After a few days, it can be harvested from the waste blocks, tanned and further processed.

Scientists around the world are researching mycelium properties, believing it could provide the basis for new materials. Some fashion businesses are already using "mushroom leather" to make products like shoes and bags.

A film by Nicole Ris und A.B. Rodhial Falah