At last year’s National Sustainable Design Expo, two students from the University of Delaware presented biodegradable sandals made of mushrooms, chicken feathers and textile waste.

Jillian Silverman and Wing Tang from the fashion and clothing department created a bio-composite material. Created entirely from renewable regional raw materials. As Silverman says – The fashion industry produces a lot of waste, so the question of sustainable development is an issue everyone tries to solve.

Difficult beginnings

The project had its beginnings in 2015, when Silverman started her undergraduate Summer Scholarship and decided to study mushroom mycelium. The idea to use this root system from which the majority of edible mushrooms grow seems to fit perfectly into the economical use of natural resources. The research results turned out to be unsatisfactory. The breakthrough came only in cooperation with Professor Huantian Cao (Director of postgraduate studies, Co-chairman of the Sustainable Clothing Initiative) who became interested in the project related to the mycelium. 

Researchers experimented with the cultivation of various fungal species and the use of various materials known as substrates in which the mycelium forms a network of roots. They bred numerous samples, dried them and tested them for potential use as shoe soles.

The natural design of the shoe

The samples grew in various nutrients, for example in chicken feathers and in textile wastes obtained from donations for the poor (those that can not be used in any other way).

Chicken feathers and textile products provide nutrients for the mycelium. They are also an auxiliary material that helps to develop it – said Cao. – They act as a kind of glue to form the basis and structure for the mycelium.

The use of textile waste from used clothing fits into project of sustainable development. Students and lecturers are looking for ways to help non-profit organizations find ways to use millions of pounds of donated clothing that can not be re-sold.

Fungal mycelium from an unidentified species of fungus, growing across a decomposing leaf. The mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungus and is made up of a mass of thread-like hyphae. 

The mushroom boot itself – the final product of tests – is not modeled or cut at any moment. The mushroom is grown on a soft, solitary shape, which is strengthened by a layer of vegan skin. Next, there is a shred of muslin fabric that serves as the skeleton of the sandal.



The future of biodegradable shoes

Before the mushroom sandals hit the shelves, it will take a long time, but the team of researchers is very optimistic. Their previous work results are more than satisfactory. Because of the location of the University near Kennett Square in Pennsylvania, they do not have to worry about running out of resources. Kennett Square is known as the World Capital of Mushrooms.

Research at the University of Delaware combines strategies for the sustainable development of local production and the use of biocompatible renewable resources to address environmental problems associated with the clothing and footwear industry. As a result, a group of researchers received prestigious funding from the People, Prosperity and the Planet category granted by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency in the USA.

Find out more about biodegradable materials!


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