So long cotton: why we’ll all soon be wearing mushroom leather, seaweed yarn and orange-peel silk

It would appear that our collective greenwash antennae is more prominent than ever.

With a surplus of brands, companies and prominent public figures declaring their eco-affinity, often it can be daunting to know who to believe, or what to look for when filtering through the minutiae.

But increasingly, there is a raft of brands – with Stella McCartney leading the way – which are letting their clothes make their planet-friendly declaration for them, by opting for sustainable materials in place of non-biodegradable fabrics.

Because in a world where our food can be grown in labs, so too can the materials which clothe us.

“The idea that you grow as much as you need and when the garment comes to its end of life it can biodegrade without harming the environment is the way forward for fashion – zero waste is the aim,” explains Dana Thomas, author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion & the Future of Clothes.

Below, we run through the pioneering, eco-friendly methods brands are using to create sustainable alternatives to water-wasting materials like cotton. 


It turns out that this season’s hottest trend can be vegan, too.

And with the vegan-leather industry reportedly set to reach $85 billion by 2025, it would seem that brands are cashing in on sustainable alternatives.

New York-based company Modern Meadow, is in the midst of developing cutting-edge animal-free ‘leather’ called Zoa™.

The creation of Zoa™ (Modern Meadow)

Zoa™ is made by fermenting yeast, which creates a collagen-like protein and can then be made into a biodegradable, leather-look material.

Elsewhere in the leather-alternative arena is the innovative pineapple-leaf leather, which H&M’s latest Conscious Exclusive collection incorporated – and which was part of the reason the brand was recognised with a PETA Progress Award earlier this year.

Piñatex is the company behind the innovative pineapple-leaf leather. It’s made by taking the fibres from pineapple leaves and crafting them in to a non-woven mesh, which forms the basis of Piñatex and is then finessed and manipulated to create a leather-like texture.

In a similar vein, Mylo™ is a type of mushroom leather derived from a substance called Mycelium, which is essentially a mass of cells on root structure of mushrooms.

The cells are grown in bulk, along with additional nutrients, and then compressed, tanned and dyed to form Mylo™ – which has been used by queen of green Stella McCartney.

And, because it’s comprised of organic matter, it is also completely biodegradable and non-toxic, too. 


As we approach the season of the festive slip, it may do us (and the planet) some good to consider where silk comes from.

H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection used silk derived from orange-peel in its award-winning range.

Italian fashion graduates Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena founded the start-up Orange Fiber, which produces the world’s first material made entirely from citrus juice by-products.

The by-products are repurposed to form a silk-like cellulose yarn that can blend with other materials and mimics the slippery texture of silk. 

Stella McCartney and Bolt Threads CEO Dan Widmaier with the pieces from their collaboration (Stella McCartney)

Similarly, San Francisco-based brand Bolt Threads innovated the creation of spider silk (made by scientists, not spiders FYI) in 2012 and since then has collaborated with both Patagonia and Stella McCartney.

The vegan material, also referred to as Microsilk, was created by the team of scientists at Bolt Threads after they studied how spiders make silk and replicated the process using DNA samples similar to that of arachnids.


The dyeing industry has a huge water issue: the annual clothing volume for the UK alone requires over 20 billion litres of water to dye.

According to the World Bank, textile dyeing accounts for around 20 per cent of global industrial water pollution.

Colorifix is a Cambridge-based company looking to tackle this by growing dyes in labs – it’s the first company to create a commercial biological dyeing process.

Colorifix, which was founded in 2016, uses its team of scientists to mimic the DNA of synthetic dyes, which they use to grow and transfer colour on lab-developed microorganisms. 


With a clear view on the future, New York-based brand AlgiKnit Inc. is a biomaterials company which has developed yarn derived from kelp which grows in cold coastal waters primarily in the Northern Hemisphere.

They were shortlisted for the LVMH Innovation Award last year, and it’s clear to see why: seaweed yarn is entirely biodegradable but mimics the texture and characteristics of cotton.

And the cool kids on the block are – pardon the pun – cottoning on. Pharrell’s favourite ethical brand, Pangaia Justin Bieber is also a fan of the brand – specialises in producing minimal clothing from lab-grown textiles with the aim of “accelerating the world’s transition to responsible production and consumption.”

It primarily uses yarn derived from kelp to design the slick pieces while the brand’s puffer jackets reject animal down entirely, and have instead adopted an entirely innovative and vegan alternative: fluff made entirely from dried wild flowers.


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