Carbon Negative Fashion is Now Possible with Mushroom Clothing

Allison Huh ‘25

Coffee grounds, pineapple, algae, and mushroom root might sound like components in a rather unordinary meal, but in the fashion industry, these could be the key ingredients to a groundbreaking environmentally-friendly shift in the ever-popular world of clothes. While clothing labels on the garments in your closet might list cotton or polyester as common contributors to the clothes you pull on every day, recent designers have been working to combine plants with products to design carbon-neutral plant-based clothing. Other designers have even managed to create fabricated garments, utilizing live nature and integrating their carbon-negative properties into textiles so the fabric contained actual living, ‘breathing’ plant cells that could remove carbon dioxide from the air around it, and emit oxygen gas in exchange. 

Canadian-Iranian designer Roya Aghighi created Biogarmentry, her goal with this project being to use synthetic biology to formulate a fashion-forward solution to combat the environmental impact of textile waste and air pollution. The carbon-negative aspect of Biogarmentry was conveyed through Aghighi’s usage of algae, specifically Chlamydomonas Reinhardtii, which was spun with nano polymers to create an airy, linen-like fabric with the full capability of photosynthesizing just like a plant. Although Biogarmentry’s pieces are not currently being mass produced nor are they available for retail, their feasibility is currently being studied at the Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory and the Botany Lab at UBC. Biogarmentry was additionally recently shortlisted for the Deezen Awards 2019 in the Sustainable Design category.

Dutch textile designer Aniela Hoitink took a different approach with her carbon-negative clothes. Hoitink was inspired by ‘soft bodies’ species, or organisms that grow through a process of replication in a specific modular pattern and found mushrooms to be the perfect organisms to help achieve this goal. Specifically, Hoitink utilized mycelium, the root-like spores of fungi that can be manipulated to create solid materials. However, as it’s impractical for clothing to be completely rigid, Hoitink developed MycoTEX, a flexible mycelium composite produced by combining the spores with pre-made fabrics. However, as MycoTEX innovations advanced, through her company Neffa, Hoitink managed to produce a new fabric made solely of mycelium by utilizing specialized molds, successfully eliminating cloth usage, as well as the time and energy required to spin yarn, weave cloth, and sew the garments. Along with being carbon-negative, mycelium carries special properties such as the potential to be antibacterial, as well as the ability to physically grow or shrink according to the wearer’s desires, thus catering each garment to be highly personalized while simultaneously reducing material waste. 

“Mycelium textile samples” Credit: Courtesy of Aniela Hoitink

These carbon-negative innovations aren’t only limited to the realm of fashion. Some buildings today are thermally or acoustically insulated using mycelium, and with another property of this carbon-negative material being its resistance to fire, the mycelium additionally adds a protective layer to the building. The versatility of this fungus is additionally explored as some companies opt to use mycelium packaging for shipping their products. Independent projects even feature large blocks of mycelium being carved and used as furniture or art pieces, further accentuating the possibilities this common material holds. Algae is currently being widely experimented with as well due to its carbon-negative properties, with researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder developing methods of creating carbon-negative algae-based concrete. If this eco-friendly material does eventually become employed in the billions of cities and buildings in the world, its impact could offset large carbon emissions from those same cities. 

“Mycelium table” Credit: Courtesy of Tom Sippel

Given the prevalence of fast fashion where trends rise and fall practically overnight, the impact of these carbon-negative garments could drastically impact fashion waste in more than one way. Along with the obvious solution of clothing being able to photosynthesize and produce oxygen gas, the concept of these fabricated garments actively combats the hyperconsumerism mindset propagated by a society on which fast fashion thrives. As described by Dian-Jen Lin, co-founder of Post Carbon Lab, the care instructions of carbon-negative clothing are much more sensitive than normal clothing. “You can’t put it into your dark wardrobe. It needs light and carbon dioxide, so you have to put it in a well-ventilated area, like the back of your chair,” Lin states. The carbon-negative plants featured in the garment would also be damaged by washing machines, so handwashing would be the ideal method of cleaning. Although this level of care may be more work for wearers, it encourages conscious consumption through knowing that each garment that is purchased will need to be cared for, therefore limiting the amount of clothing purchased and encouraging people to only buy articles of clothing they know they will want to keep. When the garment is no longer in use, it can be completely composed. Fashion is currently one of the world’s most polluting industries, some studies even suggest that textile production alone emits 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. The industry as a whole amounts to more than 10% of greenhouse gas emissions globally and almost 70% of all clothing and footwear produced each year is sent to the landfill. The shift in consumption mindset that comes with carbon-negative fashion could greatly reduce these numbers, contributing to both a more eco-friendly environment as well as a more intentional mindset when it comes to purchasing clothing.

Categories: News, Science & Tech

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