Designer Danielle Trofe wants to shake up the way we approach manufacturing. In fact, she wants to take manufacturing out of the equation altogether—her MushLume lamps are a product of agriculture growth (that's right, as in "from the earth"). The designer packs custom-made molds with a mixture of agricultural byproducts and mushroom mycelium, which result in lightweight, biodegradable lamp shades. “My desire is to disrupt the lighting industry and to get us all to rethink what our objects are made from, how they are made, and where they will ultimately end up,” she explains to The Creators Project.
The mushroom mycelium material was originally thought up by Ecovative, a biomaterials company that sells its products to large companies, like Dell, as a sustainable alternative to styrofoam packaging. Trofe came across a sample of the unconventional material and immediately contacted the company with her ideas about its potential applications in the lighting industry.
“Over the past three years, we’ve really developed a unique and cooperative relationship, connecting through a shared interest in trying to leave the planet better than we found it,” says Trofe.
Trofe describes her studio’s relationship with Ecovative as a “beneficial feedback loop.” She purchases their raw materials and grows her lamp shades inside molds of her own design, using techniques she has perfected over the years.
“In the beginning, Ecovative consulted my studio on how best to grow using their material," the designer explains. "Now I, in turn, share new explorations, such as working with natural dyes and growing to different substrates."
Mushroom mycelium is essentially the root structure of the fungus—its thin networks of filaments branch out and cling onto organic matter. To provide “food” for the mycelium, Ecovative collects crop waste from farmers. Mycelium is introduced into a mixture of chopped up corn stalks and seed husks, and begins to spread its white fibers and digest it. Once coated in mycelium, the mixture is broken up into particles, which can easily be packed into molds (like Trofe’s lamp shades), and left to grow for a few days until it forms a completely solid structure.
While Trofe was already committed to sustainable design before working with the material, she says the MushLume line has further influenced the direction of her studio “towards a future in biodesign,” and she's now pursuing a graduate degree in biomimicry. “Biomimicry is looking to nature’s form, function and ecosystems, with its 3.8 billion years of refining what works and what doesn’t, and emulating these life-friendly concepts into human design.”
Ecovative’s mushroom material has inspired others, too—architecture firm The Living used bricks of the material in its Hy-Fi towers at MoMA PS1 back in 2014. And the company invites open experimentation with its Grow It Yourself kits, so you can try your hand at it, too.
Check out more of Danielle Trofe’s work here.