Mushrooms can be great—delicious and nutrient-rich—but most people probably wouldn’t think to wear them on their feet.
A new vegan sneaker design, by contrast, is turning tree fungus into a special textile that’s part of an environmentally friendly shoe.
German designer sneaker brand nat-2, founded by Sebastian Thies, teamed up with designer Nina Fabert of Zvnder—a line of “mushroom leather” products like wallets, watch straps and caps—to create the shoes, which feature that same material along with eco-cotton terrycloth, microfiber suede created from recycled plastic bottles, natural cork (the insoles) and natural rubber (the outsoles).
The earth-tone sneakers are handmade by a small family-owned manufacturer in Italy, and the nat-2 website promises a “vintage look” that’s “unbelievably soft” in its feel. For a more botanically precise explanation, “the leather-like material is created from the Trama of the tinder sponge,” write the creators. “Fomes Fomentarius a.k.a ‘tinder sponge’ is a parasite growing on dead or weak birches and beeches.”
The manufacturers harvest the tinder sponge by hand, test it for a year, and then hand-work it further—in a textile-producing process that takes two years total, according to Designboom. In addition to being organic, vegan and chemical free, it’s anti-septic and an anti-bacterial.
It’s also, nat-2 says, gluten-free, though why that would matter isn’t immediately clear—unless someone is planning to eat the shoes (not recommended, given the Fomes Fomentarius is inedible to begin with and derives its “tinder sponge” nickname from its historical use as a tool to start fires).
While there are no listed prices for the “vegan fungi” line, nat-2’s other vegan sneakers run in the vicinity of $430 a pair (at current exchange rates). It’s not the only endeavor to turn fungus into clothing, though: You could pair your vegan sneakers with this nifty mushroom-felt hat for another cool $725.