March 11, 2022

Clothing made from mushrooms: a circular start-up from Soest called MycoTEX is making it possible. The company has developed a groundbreaking production technology for the fashion industry based on the biomaterial mycelium, the root-like structure of a mushroom. This is serious business, because the approach enables MycoTEX to create clothing and accessories using far less energy, water and chemicals than are needed for those made from textile or leather.

Een door MycoTEX met paddenstoelenwortels geproduceerd kledingstuk, foto: MycoTEX
A garment made by MycoTEX using mushroom threads. Photo credit: MycoTEX

The company is able to skip steps like cutting and sewing fabric because its products are 3D printed, with no seams and zero waste. This offers big advantages: no chemicals, no pesticides and up to an impressive 50–70 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions and water consumption. Also, manufacturing locally means that little transport is needed.

Economy of the future
Because its economic agenda calls for action to address major social issues, for example through circular entrepreneurship, the province of Utrecht is investing in MycoTEX through its regional development corporation (ROM Utrecht Region). The province of Utrecht is one of the initiators of as well as a shareholder in ROM Utrecht Region, which was founded in 2020 for the purpose of shaping the economy of the future. Sustainability, digitisation and health are key priorities of this economy.

Strong, flexible fabric
Aniela Hoitink is the passionate CEO of MycoTEX. She is a designer, a scientist and founder of the NEFFA research institute, where a usable textile was developed from mycelium. “My background is in the fashion industry. The wastefulness started to bother me so much that in 2014, at Utrecht University, I started cultivating mushroom threads, or hyphae, from mushrooms to make a strong, flexible fabric. Those efforts were successful and we’ve had our own laboratory since 2017. The fabric feels a bit like leather and is biodegradable. I’m extremely enthusiastic about the rapid development. On top of that, we’ve now also developed a production method that will enable us to scale-up quickly, as doing so will require only a few additions to existing machinery. It’s the combination of the two that interests us, because if we only increase the sustainability of the material, we’ll never make the fashion industry circular. The only way to do that is to change the entire production chain. That’s why we’re so very pleased that ROM Utrecht Region is investing in this project.”

Mushroom threads
The fashion industry is one of the most heavily polluting sectors in the world, thanks to copious overproduction, pollution-causing raw materials such as plastic, the use of chemicals and a great deal of waste and transport. There is an urgent need to increase sustainability. However, the sector is taking only marginal steps and the production of clothing and shoes combined accounts for no less than eight per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Whereas 40 per cent of textile products being manufactured today end up on the rubbish heap, MycoTEX works to prevent this by cultivating precisely the quantity of mushroom threads it needs for a given design. Those threads are grown in water, without the use of chemical additives.

Sustainability guaranteed
Hoitink: “Clothing brands are extremely interested, because the transition to sustainability is in full swing. We offer an overall concept for making innovative products that are both sustainable and in keeping with the latest trend. I expect we’ll be entering the market next year. Thanks to our automated production method, we’ll be able to handle a high production volume. But at the same time, we’re critical. We don’t want our fabric to be cut and sewn, because that serves to perpetuate the poor conditions you sometimes find in sewing workshops. Besides, the lack of seams is what identifies our line as one that guarantees sustainability: if a piece is seamless, you know it’s all right.”

Aniela Hoitink van MycoTEX aan het werk, foto: MycoTEX
Aniela Hoitink of MycoTEX at work. Photo credit: MycoTEX

Fund the intermediate stage
When it comes to retaining sustainable start-ups for the Dutch business community, Hoitink envisions a larger role for the government: “The Dutch government often funds sustainable companies at launch and at the end of the process, once they’ve become scalable, but much less frequently during the tricky intermediate stage. As a result, promising Dutch start-ups pack up and move to other countries – the United States in particular – specifically because they’re willing to finance that stage. Help companies get through that intermediate stage, or else a great deal of Dutch know-how will slip away across the border.”

Source: Provincie Utrecht