Monday, May 09, 2011

From Kombucha To Clothing

Fashion designer, Suzanne Lee has begun experimenting with a kombucha-based material (a type of tea) to essentially grow her own fabric. She began thinking of materials in a whole new way when she met an influential biologist.

Green tea + sugar + a few microbes + time = clothing.

The process is fascinating. She begins by using a Kombucha tea recipe, which is a mix of bacteria, yeasts and microorganisms. Once sugar is added to the tea, it spins cellulose in a fermentation process. After about three days, bacteria starts to feed on the sugar liquid and spins tiny fibers. Over time, tiny threads form into a mat on the surface. After 2-3 weeks the mat has grown to about 1-3 inches in thickness. Once it is ready to harvest, it can be washed with cold water and laid out to dry in the sun since the excess water will need to evaporate. As it dries it compresses and becomes a light weight transparent paper or a flexible vegetable leather. It can then be cut it out and sewn conventionally or the wet material can be used and molded around another shape.

The process is completely organic and involves absolutely no waste since the previously fermented liquid can be recycled. Lee does not use any chemicals or dyes, but instead she changes the color of the fabric using iron oxidation, fruit or vegetable staining, or indigo. After use, it is even biodegradable.

Unfortunately, the fabric made by this Kombucha process is still not water resistant. So if you were to walk outside in the rain you would absorb large amounts of water. The seams would fall apart and even if you walked out of your house clothed, you would return naked. If this issue can be solved though, Kombucha based clothing could become a smart and sustainable way to dress.

--Gabrielle Gurian