Sometimes in conscious fashion, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees – or the mushroom for the mycelium, for that matter. Sustainability, arguably the most important issue facing the fashion industry and world at large, has become somewhat of a buzzword for brands – who are juggling the consumer’s growing appetite for a more considerate way of partaking in fashion with their own considerations of budget, carbon footprint and future endeavours. It has become clear that brands will simply cease to exist if they don’t adapt their practices to today’s climate emergency: a fact that we’ve seen play out with the introduction of various schemes, initiatives and projects which all aim to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the planet.
Whether these are genuine steps in the right direction, like Patagonia’s recent announcement that it has effectively given the company (read: all profits) to a charity which prioritises the battle against climate change, or blatant vapid greenwashing programs such as Shein’s new resale platform (a contradiction in itself), it’s a concern that brands can’t ignore any more. One brand tackling the issue at both post and pre production though is ESPRIT, who marked a new future direction and exploration into sustainable materials in the fashion space last week in Berlin.
Embarking on a new chapter of reinvention, the brand is re-enforcing its focus on high-quality clothing and digital innovation in order to address the issues of textile waste, conscious design and sustainable garment engineering – and has enlisted the leading authority, Pentatonic, to help them. In one of Berlin’s dynamic industrial event venues, this played out in a visual demonstration of ESPRIT’s early exploration into the use of mycelium.
Whilst we’ve seen other brands such as Balenciaga and Stella McCartney incorporate mushroom leather into recent collections, here ESPRIT’s event, titled the Laboratory of Nature, centred on displays demonstrating how mushrooms can be used to both grow through and break down clothing that would otherwise end up in landfill. We saw the brand’s clothing transformed into living structures: bags birthed a crop of oyster mushrooms, and caps were overrun with a crop of small and skinny shroom variety. And as much as these drew the eye, the real work was being done by the mycelia below – the acute network of ‘threads’ from which the mushrooms grow. If mushrooms are the fruit of the plant, mycelia are the roots.
Thanks to their aggressive nature as organisms which grow at speed and density, in the right conditions, mycelium is the perfect aggregate for catalysing a faster process of decomposition (thus reducing the amount of textile waste in landfill). As Pentatonic explained on the night, this does require the garments to be made from mostly organic material – cotton is key here – which, in turn, cuts down on the use of unsustainable materials such as elastane in each garment’s composition. Two birds with one shroom.
To launch this milestone moment and the brand’s new direction, it would’ve been rude not to throw a big old party to celebrate – one which saw mushroom-based canapés (obv) and the likes of renowned DJ Honey Dijon descend on Berlin’s E-Werk. Around the space, guests could give a piece of ESPRIT clothing ‘a second life’ by screen printing new, shroomy designs on excess stock and taking them home, whilst the horizon of new projects were introduced with key information.
There’s no doubt that sustainability is both a complex and nuanced drive to introduce and ultimately progress within the fashion industry – with numerous pitfalls such as greenwashing, compromise and financial concerns all in the path to derail it. However, it’s always better to do something rather than nothing – and ESPRIT’s Laboratory of Nature represents an example of how a brand can get this balance right. Raves and mushrooms have always gone together – but here, you can party with a conscience.
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