Could Reishi Be the Leather Alternative Luxury Embraces?

The plan is to market Reishi as an 'exotic material'

Reishi's customization is key to its success. Photography by Jesse Green; Courtesy of MycoWorks
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If eliminating fur from your wardrobe is the sartorial equivalent of giving up red meat, then perhaps ridding a closet of leather is comparable with going vegan. One requires only a minor stylistic shift; the other forces a person to swear off near-entire categories of apparel and accessories. Leather is ubiquitous, and difficult to avoid, particularly once a shopper reaches a certain echelon of spending.

MycoWorks wants to make it possible for luxury brands to go leather-free—or at least, allow them carry sustainable, leather-alternative products that don’t force the sacrifice the quality and craftsmanship. The company creates sustainable materials for apparel from fungi (read: mushroom) and is rolling out a new product it believes has the ability to get luxury brands to embrace leather alternatives. (So far, MycoWorks says it has inked deals with several major fashion brands, though it declined to disclose who they are.)

The product link is dubbed Reishi. MycoWorks describes it as “a new class of fine leather crafted from natural mycelium.” (Without getting too much into the weeds, mycelium is a part of a fungus than can produce a mushroom.) What makes the product unique is Reishi’s ability to be used in similar ways that an animal hide would for crafting articles of clothing, said MycoWorks CEO Matt Scullin. Reishi’s versatility as a leather-replacement is apparent in a slew of items, such as bags or shoes—MycoWorks’ material can be customized to cater to the specific clothing product. Widespread consumer rollout is planned sometime within “the next several months,” according to a spokesperson for the brand.

“Our customers are not really comparing us to other alternatives,” Scullin said. In fact, he said the plan is to market Reishi as an exotic material—more special than, perhaps, standard cowhide leather.

“Initially, we are entering the market more as an exotic, something that they compare to a crocodile or snake, which is at the complete other end of the spectrum, from the very low-end plastics and other eco-alternatives,” Scullin added.

The fact of the matter is that leather alternatives have typically been viewed as a step down by high-end fashion brands and their customers. And with good reason: Scullin is right that many faux leather products are made out of plastic. Not only are those not as luxurious, but any product made of plastic can hardly be touted as good for the environment.

That’s where MycoWorks aims to change the conversation. It specializes in products and materials that are made out of fungi, such as Reishi’s derivation from . (However, MycoWorks does not refer to the product as a mushroom leather, another leather alternative that’s growing in popularity.) It’s designed, Scullin said, not as a second-tier alternative to leather, like the ‘vegan’ options that are plentiful on the market, but a material that can stand on its own. That’s also seen in MycoWorks co-founder Sophia Wang’s background as an artist, which has shaped the company’s approach to the creation of its materials and products. In turn, that approach has been a selling point for MycoWorks when it comes to forging partnerships with luxury labels.

“The fact that this technology comes out of an art practice that is decades long in the making is deeply impressive to those partners, because they appreciate the fact that the art is the basis for the insight, the innovation, the close attention to the material,” she said. “This is a master craftsperson’s attention to their material and how it works and how you can work with it.”

@dianapearl_ Diana is the brand marketing editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.