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  • Julie Moline, Avenue 3

Magic Mushroom

An Innovative Biomaterials Company Puts the Fun in Fungi

First it was DIY. Now it’s GIY, as in grow it yourself. Only we don’t mean pot, as in marijuana. We mean flowerpots.

And not hypertufa (a mixture of Portland cement, perlite and peat moss), either. These GIY planters are made from biomaterials, which are grown in a form and then baked in a home oven to set.

The planters are the brainchild of Ecovative, a company founded by two Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate students who discovered that mycelium—the sticky, thready substance produced by mushrooms—could be cultivated, and with the addition of a substrate like shredded cornstalks or industrial hemp, be turned into material with a variety of industrial and consumer uses.

From its founding a decade ago, Ecovative has been producing mycelium-based MycoFoam™ packaging, an eco-friendly, cost-effective alternative to polystyrene foam, a serious environmental hazard. MycoFoam products are strong, light and appropriately cushiony, with the added advantage of being biodegradable. Toss MycoFoam in your garden and it quickly decomposes into compost. An early MycoFoam adopter was Steelcase, the office furniture company, and Ecovative packaging is now used by Dell and various Fortune 500 companies. Vermont’s Merck Forest and Farmland Center uses custom MycoFoam packaging for its glass-bottled maple syrup, and IKEA is mulling the idea for protective packaging for its flat-pack furniture.

Ecovative’s Mushroom® Materials are also used to literally grow furniture and other products for the company’s own toxin-free interiors line, which includes wall tiles, lampshades and tables. A pressed version of MycoFoam,™ which looks like wood but is lighter and fire-resistant, is incorporated into Gunlock’s award-winning Savor chair. Mushroom Materials are also used to manufacture handplanes, mini-surfboard shaped devices that help bodysurfers glide through water.

Mushroom® Material is available by the bag; the mixture of mycelium and corn stalks/husks comes to life with some water and flour, ready to grow into an item of your choosing. Industrial design students at Kean University used it to make bike helmets and a playable guitar; the school’s partnership with Ecovative just won the “Best Sustainable Collaboration” award at the NYCXDesign show. Other students have made wall clocks and vases out of Mushroom Material, and one enterprising designer made a wedding dress out of it.

Others are using Mushroom Material to grow their businesses. New York City designer Danielle Trofe, one of the early adopters of the product, recently collaborated with Ecovative on the Grow|Lamp, a table lamp or pendant light that can be purchased fully grown or in a GIY kit. She calls these fixtures Mushlumes.

Ecovative’s co-founder and CEO Eben Bayer has long promoted “purposeful entrepreneurship,” which “requires a combination of the right frameworks, passionate people and the right ecosystem." Consumer demand, he added, plays a big part in accelerating innovation by supporting companies that make “healthier, safer, better performing products.”

Find Ecovative’s product line here:

Danielle Trofe’s lamps and planters are here:

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