Fashionable Fungi: Bonavista couple growing sustainable leather

Posted on October 26, 2021 | Elizabeth Whitten | 0 Comments

When you hear the words “vegan leather” you might think of environmentally-sustainable alternatives to leather products but most of them are polyurethane petroleum-based products. Until now. A couple in Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador have launched MycoFutures North Atlantic with an eye on the future of fashion with fungi.

Stephanie Lipp and her partner Leo Gillis, who started off with a mushroom farm, are creating this biodegradable textile made from mycelium, which is the root structure of fungus.


Stephanie Lipp and Leo Gillis


“People are definitely ready for it and excited about it, so it’s just up to us now to create the best quality because people deserve and are expecting excellent quality and durability. So that’s our job now, to make it happen for you,” Lipp recently told Atlantic Business Magazine from her home in Bonavista.

The leather alternative market is also poised to explode. According to a 2020 Infinium Global Research report, the vegan leather market is set to grow to US$89.6 billion dollars by 2025, which is partly driven by concern for animal welfare as well as concerns over the environment.

Besides mushrooms, other plant-based textiles include pineapple fibre and cactus.


MycoFuture’s most successful stage of mycelium growth so far.


Lipp said growing mycelium into a textile isn’t so different from growing mushrooms for eating; “We’re manipulating and controlling airflow, temperature, light, and humidity. So our goal in this case is not to grow the fruiting body, the actual mushroom, but growing the root of the fungus. The nice part about the way we’re growing it is it reduces waste because we can grow sheets of it for its purpose.” This way, there’s little wastage.

In a few weeks, Lipp and Gillis plan to have a primitive prototype ready in time to present their pitch to the Halifax-based BioPort Conference’s BioInnovation Challenge. Of the seven biotech and medtech companies participating, Lipp said MycoFutures will be the sole one from N.L.


The fruiting body of reishi, one of the strains of fungi MycoFutures cultivates


Lipp and Gillis moved from Ontario to Bonavista in 2019 and began a mushroom farm. This past summer they enrolled in Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Genesis Centre’s Evolution program to develop a mushroom supplement company. However, Lipp said in week five of the eight-week program they realized the field was saturated with plenty of similar products, so they decided to pivot to mycelium leather.

Their admittedly optimistic goal is to reach full-scale commercialization by 2026, she said. They’ve also set their sights on getting their product into fashion schools to reach the fashion designers of the future, Lipp explained, adding the school setting will be a low-risk environment to test out their product. It will also put them into contact with the instructors.


Mycelium colonizing a petri dish


In addition, she’d like to reach small-scale artisans to get feedback on MycoFuture’s mycelium leather, as well as gain traction so they can go after bigger companies, “Because we do need to see this on a large scale for it to make an impact. But it just takes a long time to get there.”

Over the course of the coming year they are planning to apply to a number of accelerators, ranging from fashion, agriculture and material sciences. They are also working on getting accepted into Genesis’ Enterprise program, said Lipp.

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