This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.
Emma Huffman is a designer, mender, and translator from Japan, based in the Netherlands. She graduated from the Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT) with a master's degree in Design in 2022. During her BA and MA studies at KIT (JP) and an exchange year at Product Design ArtEZ (NL), she focused on hands-on research projects on Biomaterial Design, Circularity, and Speculative Design. Her graduation project, Mending with Mycelium, explores the possibility of collaborating with other species for mending. The project features a worn-down running shoe mended by mycelium. Her research began by questioning the trend of using biomaterials for the production and consumption of new products while there is a lack of care for existing products. The detailed documentation of the research process and the playful yet critical outcomes, i.e. our “belongings” coming alive as mycelium weaves itself into and becomes one with a shoe, brings about a new perspective of care.
Mycelium is receiving much attention as the new sustainable material to create products such as shoes. However, the world is already saturated with shoes; many of them will remain with us for centuries as they are made from synthetic materials which are difficult to decompose. Why are we so focused on making even more? Can’t we prolong the life of the already existing products by repairing/mending them rather than throwing them into landfill or burning them and buying new ones?
What if we mend our shoes together with mycelium? What will it mean to care for our belongings? How will our lifestyle change if we invite mycelium into the practice of mending as a daily practice? The project “Mending with Mycelium” explores these questions through material research on the possibility of mycelium as a material for and partner in mending, and a near-future scenario based in Kyoto, Japan about a Kinji-ya or co-mender, a professional who mends shoes in collaboration with mycelium.
Recipe to Mend with Mycelium
For the outcome of the project, I created a method to repair the worn-down soles of sneakers. Specifically, a new layer of mycelium composite is grown directly onto the sneaker. Through material research, I found that the mycelium weaves itself into woven textiles. In my early tests mycelium easily broke down natural fibers such as silk and cotton as it is a decomposer. However, textiles made of synthetic fibers stay practically the same and the mycelium just grew in and out of them, like when you darn a sweater. This is where I got my inspiration for the project. The shoe needing repair is 3D scanned and a reusable mold is 3D printed. The cleaned shoe is placed in the mold and the mycelium substrate is filled in the spaces. Within about two to three weeks, the mycelium grows into the shape of the new sole and weaves itself into the upper of the sneaker fastening itself onto the whole sneaker.