Phil Ross, a biologist has been experimenting with fungi in his art practice for almost two decades. By introducing mushroom tissue into molds filled with pasteurized sawdust and allowing the fungus to digest the material, he has built fungal sculptures that have been exhibited in art galleries and museums around the world. He has grown mushroom side-tables and lounge chairs. But it wasn’t until he built a small teahouse from Reishi mushroom bricks at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf—and then boiled the bricks themselves into tea for gallery visitors to drink—that he realized this material might have life beyond the museum walls.
Ross, who teaches art at the University of San Francisco and calls himself a “bad capitalist,” saw the potential of his very specific skill set. He decided to double down.
He has filed for patent and co-founded a startup of his own called MycoWorks. He almost exclusively refers to his mycelial bricks and components as “the material,” which lends an eerily science-fictional tone to his enterprise.
Mycoworks have created a new kind of leather grown rapidly from mycelium and agricultural byproducts in a carbon-negative process. Their custom-engineered material is sustainable, versatile, and animal–free. Best of all, it feels and performs like leather. This is what the studio has to say for their product:
Engineered to Perform
According to the designer, the material is strong, flexible, and durable, just like conventional leathers. It is also water-resistant. And since it’s made from natural fibers, it breathes and feels like leather.
They also say that the leather is uniquely customizable. The textures and other features can be grown right into the material. And unlike animal hides, the materials can be grown to nearly any size and shape.
The closed-loop process uses abundant, natural fibers to create 100‰ biodegradable materials, making this an infinitely renewable technology.
It takes a fraction of the time and resources to grow our leather compared to processes for making leather from animal hides.