SYNTHETIC substitutes for leather have been piling onto the market for years, promoted as being a more sustainable fashion alternative to the humble cow hide.
But as marketers report the tide of consumer sentiment has started to turn back towards animal leather's more natural image, a new technology is emerging which may prove a more formidable rival.
Taking advantage of the root-like structure of mushrooms, called mycelium, scientists have been able to develop a material they say looks and feels a lot like animal leather and has a similar durability.
Development of fungi-derived leather has been happening for around five years and now companies in the United States and Indonesia have released prototypes.
It's novel and rather exotic nature is attracting headlines and as scientists start to weigh up its sustainability credentials against animal leather and other synthetic alternatives, fashion houses are taking an interest in its potential.
Dr. Mitchell P. Jones, an engineer and researcher experienced in product development based at the Vienna University of Technology, explained mushroom roots grown on sawdust or agricultural waste form a thick mat that can then be treated to resemble leather.
Because it's the roots and not the mushrooms being used, this natural biological process can be carried out anywhere. It does not require light, converts waste into useful materials and stores carbon by accumulating it in the growing fungus, he reported in a news article published in the academic journal, The Conversation.
Going from a single spore to a finished 'fungi leather' takes only a couple of weeks.
Ultimately, there's no good reason fungal leather alternatives couldn't eventually replace animal leather in many consumer products, Dr Jones wrote.
He told Farmonline there were other companies in Italy and South Korea now also working on prototypes.
Amadou leather, which is a leather-like material crafted from fungal fruiting bodies, has been around for thousands of years and is still made on a small scale commercially in Romania, he said.
This, however, is only a small market and the use of myclelium-derived materials commercially was yet to begin.
United States company Bolt Threads have created a range it calls Mylo made from mycelium.
It says it engineers mycelium to grow into an interconnected 3D network and then processes, tans, and dyes it into a finished leather-like material.
Bolt Threads's publicity material claims the process uses less resources than traditional or synthetic leather.
Dr Jones said he and fellow scientists who have investigated the cost, sustainability and material properties of fungus-derived renewable leather substitutes make no comment promoting or discrediting either non-animal or animal leather but rather introduce a new material technology.
He said commercial products made with fungi-derived leather are expected to be on sale soon - the real question was whether it will cost you an arm and a leg.