It all began with the signing of ‘The Fashion Pact’.
What may sound like a name of an upcoming Netflix drama about the world of fashion but is in fact even more exciting that that.
The Fashion Pact is a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry (including the suppliers and distributors) brought together by common environmental goals in three areas: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. The list of signatories continues to expand, including thirty two of the biggest players on the high-end market including : Kering (parent group of Gucci and YSL), Hermès, Prada and Farfetch.
The single biggest challenge that most luxury brands have come under fire for is their consumption of animal leather. And while in the past it used to be only environmentalists protesting against animal-cruelty and the carbon footprint associated with leather goods production – times are changing. Luxury consumers have gradually become more eco-conscious and expect brands to take more responsibility for the negative externalities. But for many luxury houses, leather good is not only the biggest product segment but is also their heritage. Hermès was a leather good supplier first and a fashion brand second, and their name is synonymous with iconic handmade leather purses.
“We could not imagine a better partner than Hermès to present our first object made of Fine Mycelium. Hermès and MycoWorks share common values of craftsmanship, quality, innovation, and patience”
– Matt Sculli, MycoWorks CEO
For a minute, vegan leather seemed like the answer that legacy luxury brands were desperately searching for, but at second glance this solution is far less ecological than the name makes it out to be. The main issue with most vegan leathers is that they are derived from processed plastic which is not biodegradable. Nonetheless, fashion brands from Zara to Balenciaga frequently green-wash polyethyleneleather with labels like sustainable, ecological, ‘green’ and cruelty-free.
Hermès decided to take a different route by partnering with MycoWorks, a California-based biotechnology start-up company that debuted its disruptive innovation – Fine Mycelium during fall 2020 fashion week. The material was presented as a viable alternative to calf leather which is non-animal and nonplastic, biodegradable and on top of that has a much lower carbon footprint than both cowhide and vegan leathers.
Fine Mycelium is a type of premium mushroom-based leather made from mycelium, the threadlike part of a fungus and was patented by MycoWorks in 2019 with 45 million dollars behind its development.
Unlike its predecessors, this biomaterial can be tanned and dyed just like cowhide leather, and even achieve similarly grained or pebbled finishes. Furthermore, three years of test trials have demonstrated it to be stronger than leather, and just as durable.
The Victoria bag by Hermès, born in 1997, is now made of fine Mycelium with the supply chain stretching from America to Europe. Once the leather is produced in California, the leather processing stage takes place in France, in the legendary Hermès ateliers, where the artisans treat the first fully sustainable leather. Ideally the production of fine Mycelium can be set up in Europe, to minimize the carbon footprint of the Victoria bag even further.
Will luxury fashion be able to say goodbye to animal leather and fur in the future?
The consensus of industry insiders is somewhere along the lines of ‘probably not’. But there are certainly reasons to be hopeful, as high-sounding names such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney announce they are banishing the use of fur and leather in their collections in the UK. And in Italy, Armani, Prada, and Versace have abolished the use of fur in their groups.