Dezeen Magazine

Helena Elston textiles

Helena Elston designs decomposable garments from mycelium and recycled materials

Designer Helena Elston has created a collection of upcycled clothing made from mycelium and London-sourced textile waste, which explores "how we can produce beautiful things from discarded materials".

FI (Fungal Integrated) is an ongoing project by London-based Elston made up of various garments she creates using a combination of local waste products, including discarded textiles, coffee sacks and mycelium – the vegetative filaments of fungi.

Seamless dress
A seamless dress is included in Helena Elston's collection

These pieces range from a seamless dress and a navy trouser suit to chunky heeled boots and a rugged jacket made from earthy-hued patches of hessian stitched together.

Elston appliques these surplus fabrics using a mycelium growth process that lasts for roughly six weeks, which produces wearable pieces that are designed to biodegrade once the wearer has finished with them.

Navy trouser suit by Helena Elston
The designer also created a navy trouser suit

"The growing environments are basically containers where I introduce nutrients and mycelium to the garments at a specific dampness, darkness and temperature," the designer, who is trying to patent her growing process and therefore cannot disclose its details in full, told Dezeen.

Once the garments are removed from this environment in Elston's studio in North Acton, they dry out and stop growing, after which they can be worn.

The designer said that the project is centred around the idea that the wearer could "fully decompose" these pieces once they have finished with them rather than disposing of them in landfill, reducing waste.

Before and after images show a jacket that has undergone a mycelium "growing" process

Though Elston garments aren't yet in production, she explained that "in practice" they could be composted in household waste or buried in a back garden due to the "extensive and magical toolkit" within soil that works with mycelium to decompose materials.

"This is speculative at the moment, but with some more experimentation it is very likely to work," the designer said.

The time taken for each garment would depend on its material, with natural fabrics taking between two and six months to break down, according to the designer.

Mycelium textiles
The garments have an earthy texture

"It's a speculative and cyclical design process, but still very plausible," said Elston.

"We've seen mycelium able to decompose all types of human waste and byproducts, so I investigated the unexplored concept of using it to decompose fashion and textiles, which is one of the world's largest waste producers."

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

The designer is also working on producing a way to use mycelium as an alternative sewing tool in order to connect patches of fabric.

"There is so much unknown about mycelium, but we do know that it is an intelligent living system that interconnects many parts of ecology," reflected Elston, who exhibited her pieces at this year's London Design Festival as part of the Park Royal Design District.

"I work with mycelium because it is the future of materials. I find it fascinating that we are just discovering its capabilities – there is so much more to explore," she said.

"As I continue working with mycelium I seem to stumble across many more questions than solid answers, but that makes the process and material exciting," added the designer. "There is a fragility to mycelium, but when growing it correctly you can produce dense slabs of extremely useful product."

"I love exploring how we can produce beautiful things from discarded materials."

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

Various designers are taking advantage of mycelium to enhance their projects. Other mycelium-based designs include a cycle helmet that Studio MOM created from mycelium and hemp and "soft and velvety" lampshades by materials company Myceen.

The images are courtesy of Helena Elston.

More images

Helena Elston mycelium textiles
Helena Elston mycelium textiles
Helena Elston mycelium textiles
Helena Elston mycelium textiles
Helena Elston mycelium textiles