Fashion designer Amanda Morglund is the star of the short film ‘Mycelium Made’, showing at EFFA 2019 as part of the Australasian Shorts. We spoke to Amanda about her use of mushrooms as fabric and the role it could play in the sustainable fashion movement.
What is the name of your mushroom – mycelium – fabric?
I refer to them as Mycomaterials, there’s two types, the first being made from the mycelium/root network of the fungi and a substrate (a food source) which happens to be waste textiles in this case. The second type of material is made from the dried caps of mushrooms which is shaved into sheets. This material is called a Mycoleather. I primarily work with fabric based Mycomaterials using tailoring to create biodegradable shaping for my lounge and evening wear pieces. The shaping is made using a zero-waste cutting method that reincorporates the pattern offcuts as a source for cultivating structure.
In very simple terms, what is mycelium 'fabric', how is it created, and did you personally discover this?
My fabric based Mycomaterials are created by cultivating Fungi on discarded textiles through a process called Mycotailoring. This material replaces the need for synthetic garment padding that makes clothing challenging to recycle. The textiles are quilted, embroidered and tailored into shape and then the mycelium grows and bonds together the structure. This new composite material once dried is lightweight, insulating and water wicking, all ideal qualities for the insides of our clothing.
Applied Mycology and Mushroom Materials as a whole has been an emerging field in recent years and caught my interest during University. At this time mushrooms were usually grown on a substrate of straw or sawdust for commercial farming. After harvesting the mushrooms, the farmers were left with ‘spent blocks’ of mycelium that were essentially a waste product. These blocks showed great application for industrial design and architecture purposes as the mycelium can easily be formed into a mold during the growth stage. These materials showed interesting material properties for sound insulation and packaging purposes but still needed refinement.
Meanwhile I was pretty dismayed with the amount of waste that was common in the Fashion Industry. I believe up to 15% of the textiles we produce globally are discarded waste on the cutting room floor before they are even used which is a vast amount of resources. I thought there was a great opportunity to repurpose these fibres and bond them together with mycelium cultivation. There are a lot of fantastic properties that Mycomaterials have that I came across through further experimentation and testing over the next 3 years of developing Mycelium Made and my Mycotailoring process.
You studied fashion design at RMIT. It seems there's a scientific element to making mycelium for fabrics - how did you learn the knowledge needed to create this material?
I graduated from the Bachelor of Fashion Design (hons) in 2018 with my honours project and thesis focusing on the development and applications of mycomaterials within the Fashion Industry. The Applied Mycology side of things I really had to pick up from what I could read and find out from local Mycologists. The Mushroom Cultivation communities are a really welcoming and helpful bunch, I set out learning the basics of cultivation through the DIY groups and speaking to home growers.
In the early stages of the project I conducted as many material experiments as possible and had a lot of constructive defeats and contaminations. Eventually I ended up adapting the cultivation process to suit working with making garment components. Limitations like the standard size of the growbags and equipment available ended up shaping my outcomes until I developed my final process of producing Mycotailoring. This is a blend between traditional tailoring techniques that give form to the fungi to create mycelium-based garment shaping structures. These are ideal to replace components like synthetic shoulder pads and bra cups.
Where do you make the mycelium fabric?
I do a lot of my tailoring work and cultivation at my home studio, but I also do some experiments and workshops at Bioquisitive in Brunswick. It’s a fantastic community lab space for DIY projects, workshops and access to equipment.
How did you discover mycelium, why is it so special, is it cost effective, and where do you see this form going in the future?
Fungi are amazing organisms that have huge applications for our communities and ecosystems. Applied Mycology is considered a pretty new field despite having enormous global ramifications. The digestive systems of fungi are highly adaptive to their environments and can tackle a vast range of materials. This lends itself to applications like repairing polluted environments or breaking down excess waste materials. In terms of the cost effectiveness of cultivating mushroom materials, they grow rapidly, on waste and require minimal equipment. The materials themselves are absorbent, insulating and water wicking which are ideal qualities for material within our garments. Finally, they are durable, flexible and compostable at the end of their use.
I see this area of Applied Mycology as having a lot of room to grow and develop to meet the new needs of many Industries for sustainable and efficient materials. As Mycomaterials can be grown into a moulded shape they make a low impact alternative to synthetic packaging, offering a more robust, protective and biodegradable structure to protect transported products.
Is mycelium at the point where it is now able to be used for creating garments, or if not, how far down the line towards this is it?
My collection has Mycotailoring structures within every garment. The outer layers are constructed from reclaimed textiles, usually recycled kimono silk, antique velvet, bamboo and hemp silk. Then using a zero-waste cutting method the offcuts are reincorporated into the garment as the mycelium’s substrate and then grown to shape as the piece is being created. Once fully grown, the mushrooms are harvested and the Mycomaterial pieces are air cured. The full Cultivate Capsule Collection will be available in 2020.
How does the material change from being a 'live, growing' thing, where you could literally eat the mushrooms growing from the fabric, to it being a wearable 'fabric'?
Edible fungi can be cultivated on textiles though care should be taken to not include any textiles treated with heavy metals. Naturally dyes cotton and linen is ideal for this application. The curing process after harvesting the mushrooms from the material takes the mycelium from being a living organism to being an inert material. The material can then be washed and laundered like your regular garments and will not grow further.
What is the textural feel of the end product/fabric?
The end product texture varies depending on the type of substrate that has been used. Tightly packed sawdust produces the firmest block material while cultivating on textiles produces a softer more flexible structure. The mycelium tips create a fuzz on the surface of the substrate which can be dried into a ‘hide’ comparable to leather. The texture and density of the block can be modified by adjusting the environmental growing conditions like humidity and oxygen flow. The mushroom leather texture is velvety and similar to suede with some woody or more traditional leather textures also achievable.
Does working with mycelium impact the nature of your designs? Does it have limitations, how does it fare over time, how do you clean it?
Currently the equipment limitations restrict the size of the structure that can be grown so fully formed mycelium garments are not yet achievable but could be on the horizon. The garment can be washed in the same manner as the rest of your wardrobe, but has the advantage of not releasing microfibers when washed. Usually a gentle cold-water cycle is best. Mushroom materials are reported to have antimicrobial properties suggesting that they may need less cleaning than traditional textiles however I’m yet to fully test this information myself.
If you could compare mycelium with another fabric which fundamentally changed the fashion landscape, what would it be?
There is a huge amount of interesting research going into materials produced from agricultural wastes at the moment. Things like pineapple leather show a shift in the Industry towards looking at discarded waste and seeing valuable resources. When coupled with low impact manufacturing and an eco-friendly end product, traditional materials can’t really compare. It’s an exciting time for sustainable materials.
You presented at the 2018 Youth Fashion Summit in Copenhagen - the world’s largest conference on sustainability in fashion. How did you secure a speaking role, what are the top three take-aways you learnt at the Summit, and what was the outcome of your attendance for you personally?
For the Youth Fashion Summit 112 students from around the world were invited to Copenhagen to help problem solve some of the biggest challenges the Fashion Industry currently faces in order to achieve the 17 Social Development Goals set by the UN for 2030. We worked in teams identifying areas of the Industry that needed Social, Environmental and Structural development. We worked closely with Industry Leaders to set the focus of the Summit and guide Industry Stakeholders. Several of us were selected to draft and deliver the opening address to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2018 while others were responsible for negotiations and content creation to communicate our vision for the Industry.
The Summit joined together many different organizations and individuals to pursue a common goal of righting the Fashion Industry and preparing for future challenges. Through producing the Pulse Report the Global Fashion Agenda has created a standard of measurement across the Industry allowing for yearly progress to be tracked and published. This is a great step in the right direction towards getting ethical and sustainable standards in place. I also saw how invested and committed so many people in the Industry are to finding a better way to conduct business where success is measured in impact and purpose. Being a part of the summit really tuned my Systems Design thinking causing me to look more closely at the flow of production and envision how that system might become more circular and healthier.
You have said that sustainability is going to be the new norm in fashion, and in five to ten years this will be standard practice. How far do you think we can go in that much time, especially in terms of mass-produced fashion?
Within mass production fashion I can see new ethical standards being a strong force to encourage the adoption of positive business practices. The rate of consumption and disposal of clothing is extremely high at the moment and directly related to low cost and time focus of fast fashion manufacturing. Thankfully, Consumers are more aware of manufacturing conditions and discourse around ethics is discouraging the continuation of polluting and inhumane practices. In the meantime, rescuing resources from landfill and introducing more options for recycling is making sustainable practices more a part of our everyday lives. Personally, I’m in favour of clothing that is produced with care and stays with us for a long time. Individually, reducing the amount of textiles sent to landfill by doing basic repairs or growing a crop of mushrooms on your old damaged jeans is a great way people can recycle their clothing. Mushroom recyclable textiles include: cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, silk, wool, tencel, viscose and rayon.
With fast fashion, there is always the tension between affordability (for both the producer and the consumer), being 'on trend' (being able to move quickly from design to factory to shelf) and being sustainable. Which will push the tipping point over towards being more sustainable - consumers, or the industry, or the environment itself?!
Most likely a combination of all three is pushing the Industry slowly towards better practices. Consumer pressure for businesses to produce ethically is critical to seeing more sustainable options but without Industry Standards there is unlikely to be a united effort to address the systemic imbalances. We need to balance all three and can be aided by new technologies in biofabrication, transparency and automation to remain agile and effective in business.
Sustainability is taking centre stage at this year's major fashion shows, including the recent London and Paris Fashion Week events. Do you think the industry is really taking the issue seriously, or is it a passing 'fad'?
I think it has been treated as a fad by some organizations, however others have really incorporated the principles of sustainability into their core purpose and it is these organisations that are doing great work and revolutionising how the Fashion Industry operates. When a social impact can be made through the work you do while nourishing your local ecosystems, a more circular approach to Fashion becomes available. I am personally certain that sustainable practices will inform many of our design choices collectively going forward out of necessity to respect resources and design responsibly.
What's your vision for your future in fashion design/taking mycelium to the world?
I envision a connected circular system that uses fungi to support every stage of the Fashion System. I would like to see Applied Mycology being used to support healthy ecosystems at the agricultural stages, rerouting waste streams to product and packaging, producing fuel for sustainable transport, removing post-consumer textiles from land fill and returning at the end of use to ecosystem nourishment. Growing the social and environmental impacts alongside the development of the material is key to fully realising the potential applications of Fungi.
What was it like being the subject of the short film, Mycelium Made?
It was amazing to work with Nicefilm.co, they’re such an inspired team. We were all really excited about this project and the potential to improve our world by connecting to people and introducing them to mushrooms in an approachable way. It was a lot of fun working on a film, so I hope I get to do more work like this.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
I hope it instils a feeling of hope that there are things we can do to collectively improve the world around us. Cultivating mushrooms has very much been a DIY community so it’s really accessible for anyone that might like to try growing mushrooms themselves. It’s an excellent way to handle a lot of household waste and have a direct impact on your local environment.
What are your top tips for people wishing to make more environmentally aware/conscious fashion choices?
Learning some basic garment repair skills online or at the workshop will allow you to care for your garments for longer and even customize them as you go.
Donating or recycling your textiles is a great next step for them. Many natural fibres can be shredded for making new materials at donation centres, used for composting or mushroom cultivation.
If purchasing new garment, a little bit of research into which companies operate on ethical standards like B-Corp or Fairtrade Certification ensures that your money is being put towards positive working conditions and clean production methods.
Where can people learn more about your work?
My Instagram @Myceliummade will have information about the upcoming Cultivate Collection as well as my material experiments and studio updates. The Applied Mycology and Learning Lab, located at Bioquisitive in Brunswick is where Mycology workshops and the community lab space can be found.
See Amanda’s Mycomaterials in in the short film ‘Mycelium Made’ as part of the Australasian Shorts, 6.45pm Thursday 31 October, Palace Westgarth Cinema
Image taken by Daniel Mallia for his 2019 documentary book project ‘Ground to Garment’, covering the founding and process of the Mycelium Made studio.