Story by Nicole Rigas, Photography by Jay Lopez (Young Hero), Art Direction by Xavier Gallego

Earlier this month, we unveiled Reishi to the world for the first time at New York Fashion Week. Naturally, the world had a lot of questions. We invited Elettra Wiedemann to sit down with Mycoworks CEO Matthew Scullin to find out more. A model, spokeswoman, foodie and farmer, Elettra has devoted her career to bringing sustainability to fashion and food.

Elettra: Let’s say I’m a designer and I’m interested in using Reishi, but I’ve been using leather for years. How does Reishi and its qualities compare?

Matt: Over the last 18 months, we’ve been working with designers at some of the world’s leading luxury brands, gathering their input and developing hundreds of prototypes. Alongside our brand partners and our tannery partners—some of the finest luxury leather providers in Europe—we’ve worked really hard to ensure Reishi is purpose-built for creating leather goods. It’s the first material that doesn’t sacrifice performance and quality for sustainability, and possesses all the qualities that are really important to luxury leather designers.

Elettra: So if I was to design a shoe or a bag–or even beautiful furniture–are those capabilities that Reishi could meet, as far as performance and comfort?

Matt: Certainly. We’re really proud to have recently published the first third party test data on a biomaterial, which validated Reishi’s performance compared to cowhide leather. Reishi matched or surpassed leather against all of the standard leather test criteria including tensile strength, abrasion resistance and color fastness. As a result, Reishi can be used in all the same applications.

Elettra: I’ve read that you can also mimic other skins like lambskin and snakeskin. Is that true?

Matt: Yes, correct. We grow Reishi in trays on plant biomass. The trays support our proprietary fermentation process, enabling mycelium cells to grow in a dense, intertwined structure that produces a strong, uniform sheet. After we harvest those sheets, our tannery partners use our proprietary, chrome-free process to produce various finishes, whether that’s the softness or the hand feel or even the stamped texture of different types of animal leathers. Reishi is really versatile in that regard.

We’ve found that a lot of designers really like natural Reishi too–it has its own look the way any animal skin has its own look.

Elettra: What are some examples of environmental gains that a brand would be making by using Reishi instead of animal hide?

Matt: Reishi is the first material that performs like leather, but is non-animal and non-plastic. So right off the bat, from a sustainability point of view, this is a material that is not going to end up in landfills and it doesn’t have any animal rights issues associated with it. Reishi is also biodegradable, and we don’t use a lot of the nasty chemicals that are used with animal hides. Our production process has a lower footprint since it doesn’t require much light, energy or water; unlike plants, mycelium doesn’t need to be watered every day and it prefers to grow in the dark. So the whole process from end to end is very sustainable. We also have plans to work with brands to create their own Reishi production facilities, near where they’re fabricating. That way they’d be able to cut down on carbon emissions from shipping hides across the world to get them from cow to factory to processing to the designer.

We could grow exactly what they need, in the amount that they need, reducing waste and allowing them to create something more custom and more sustainable.

Elettra: I love that–and there’s also this design element that’s being introduced because you can grow Reishi in any shape and size.

Matt: Right. In theory, we can grow Reishi in any shape, whether that’s something very large and seamless, or smaller custom shapes that eliminate all the waste associated with cutting a hide. With leather, you’re essentially cutting arbitrary patterns into a cow-shaped hide and so a lot of our brand partners are excited by the fact that Reishi can be grown in any shape–both for the design possibilities that creates and the reduction of waste.

To learn more about Reishi, visit the FAQ Highlight on the @madewithreishi Instagram, or leave a question in the comments.