I don’t know about you, but I’m used to vegan leather that’s made out of synthetic man-made products. And while I suppose kombucha is man-made, I sure as heck didn’t know you could make vegan leather out of the fermented, bubbly, hipster drink of choice.
Researchers at Iowa State University are “using the cellulose fibers taken from kombucha tea to make a new substitute for leather,” Ecorazzi reports. The researchers were able to conduct their work thanks to a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Iowa researchers are combining the healthy beverage, plus vinegar, sugar, bacteria, and yeast in a shallow bath. The fermented tea feeds off the mixture and forms cellulose fibers.
“The film is grown by using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY),” Iowa State news reports. “Young-A Lee, an associate professor of apparel, merchandising and design at Iowa State, says the properties of this SCOBY film are similar to leather once it’s harvested and dried, and can be used to make clothing, shoes or handbags.”
“Fashion, to most people, is an ephemeral expression of culture, art, and technology manifesting itself in form. Fashion companies keep producing new materials and clothing, from season to season, year to year, to fulfill consumers’ desire and needs,” Lee says. “Think about where these items eventually go. They will take tremendous underground spaces of the Earth like other trash.”
Now, this research is only in its beta phase. The researchers still need to solve a few problems: moisture can make the kombucha “leather” lose its structural integrity and cold temperature can make it fall apart. The fiber also is time-consuming to make—“it takes up to four weeks to grow a sheet of the stuff,” Gizmodo notes.
If the researchers can work out these kinks, this biodegradable leather could become a reality.
“It does not take that long to make certain synthetic materials, but for this new material we are proposing, it requires a certain amount of time to grow, dry, and treat the material within specific conditions,” Lee explains.
“If our experimental effort from this EPA project is successful, this cellulose-based renewable fabric can be an alternate future where we move to a cradle-to-cradle system, instead of relying on materials derived from unsustainable sources.”
And while this whole vegan leather idea alone is pretty rad, this substance has been used for other things as well—cosmetics, foods, and biomedical tissue for wound dressing.
So, I guess kombucha is good for everything!
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Image of kombucha via Shutterstock