Helena Elston designs clothes that can decompose from mycelium

Designer Helena Elston has created a collection of upcycled garments made from mycelium and textile waste from London, exploring “how we can make beautiful things out of waste materials.”

FI (Fungal Integrated) is an ongoing project from London-based Elston that uses a combination of local waste products such as discarded fabrics, coffee sacks and mycelium, the vegetable fiber of mushrooms.

A seamless dress is in Helena Elston’s collection.

These items range from a seamless dress and a navy blue trouser suit to chunky heeled boots and a solid jacket made of sewn-on earthy patches.

Elston appliqués these excess fabrics using a mycelium growth process that takes about six weeks, producing wearables designed to biodegrade once the wearer is done with them.

Navy blue pants set by Helena Elston
The designer also designed a navy blue pant suit.

“Growing media are basically containers in which I add nutrients and mycelium to clothes at a certain humidity, darkness and temperature,” says the designer, who is trying to patent the cultivation process and therefore cannot fully explain the details.

At Elston’s studio in North Acton, after garments are removed from this environment, they dry and stop growing, and can then be worn.

The designer said the project is focused on the idea that the user can “completely decompose” these parts after they’re done with them, instead of throwing them in the landfill, and reduce waste.

Before and after images show a coat going through the mycelium “growth” process

Elston explained that while the garments are not yet in production, “in practice” they can be composted with household waste or buried in a backyard that works with the mycelium to decompose materials due to the “extensive and magic toolkit” in the soil.

“This is speculative at the moment, but with a little more experimentation, it’s very likely to work,” said the designer.

According to the designer, the time spent on each garment will depend on its material, and natural fabrics will take between two and six months to break down.

mycelium textiles
Clothes have an earthy texture

“It’s a speculative and cyclical design process, but still very plausible,” Elston said.

“We found that mycelium can decompose all types of human waste and byproducts, so I explored the unexplored concept of using it to decompose fashion and textiles, one of the world’s largest waste producers.”

While Elston’s finished pieces are made from discarded fabrics, she is currently experimenting with a combination of synthetic and natural materials to make other garments.

The designer is also working on producing a way to use the mycelium as an alternative sewing tool for joining pieces of fabric.

“There’s a lot of unknown about the mycelium, but we know it’s an intelligent living system that connects so many parts of ecology,” said Elston, who is exhibiting his work at this year’s London Design Festival as part of the Park Royal Design District.

“I work with mycelium because it’s the future of materials. I find it fascinating that we’re just discovering the capabilities of mycelium – there’s so much more to discover,” he said.

“As I continue to work with the mycelium, I seem to come across a lot more questions than definitive answers, but that makes the process and the material exciting,” he added. “There is a fragility to the mycelium, but when you grow it correctly, you can produce dense sheets of an extremely useful product.”

Spreads from the sketchbook
Elston created the project to explore the potential of mycelium

Various designers use mycelium to enhance their projects. Other mycelium-based designs include a bike helmet created by Studio MOM from mycelium and hemp, and the “soft and velvety” lampshades by materials company Myceen.

Images courtesy of Helena Elston.

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