Best of 2019: Hay sneakers & baked mushroom sandals

Originally published on 4 February

In the world of shoes, we see a lot of experiments using interesting materials. Today, we discuss sneakers made from hay and sandals with soles made of baked mushrooms.

Nat-2, a German sneaker brand, is well-known for their use of unusual materials to make sneakers, including coffee, stone, and mushroom leather. Their latest models feature real Austrian or Bavarian meadow hayfields. The vegan sneaker uppers are made from recycled hay, grass and flowers. The hay is pressed and applied to a layer base. It keeps its natural mountain scent.

The material is developed in Germany and Austria, while the sneakers are handmade in Italy. All shoes are 100 per cent vegan and feature a soft padded, anti-bacterial cork insole. The glue used is made from animal-free ingredients and the outsoles are real rubber. The suede looking parts are made from recycled PET bottles.

Baked mushrooms
Jillian Silverman, a University of Delaware graduate student focused on environmental sustainability, and undergraduate Wing Tang designed a prototype sandal that combines mushroom mycelium, agricultural waste, and fabric scarps.

Mycelium, the root system of mushrooms, naturally binds biodegradable materials together as it grows. The students decided on reishi, oyster, king oyster and yellow oyster varieties, which were chosen for their superior aesthetic and strength. The mushrooms were grown in a mould, which was afterwards baked to halt the mycelium growth.

The main challenge was to create the perfect growth mixture for the mycelium to thrive. After extensive testing. Silverman decided on biobased insulation material consisting of recycled cotton and jute. Other components included psyllium husk (a natural plant fibre), corn-starch, which acted as food sources for the mycelium, and chicken feathers, added for strength of the final product.

The end result is a biodegradable, compostable mushroom-based sole that could replace rubber and artificial materials. Unfortunately, the sole is not ready to wear, not unless it is treated to prevent water intrusion. The designers also have some concerns about the material’s flexibility, but who knows, perhaps in the future we will be wearing shoes made from hay with mushroom soles.

Photos: Nat-2 / University of Delaware/Wenbo Fan