Brew Your Own Clothes?! Growing Green Clothing with Kombucha
By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the NatuREport Blog Series
While most people think of tea or beer when they hear the word “brew,” British designer Suzanne Lee is brewing up couture!
When you think of a brewery, what do you think of? Most likely, you’re picturing a room like my friend Jake’s basement: full of yeast and hops, bottles and vats. The trendier among you might be picturing kombucha, a fermented sweet tea celebrated for its health benefits.
But British designer Suzanne Lee is brewing up something a little bit different: clothing.
Yes, you read that right. As part of a project called BioCouture, Lee grows her own fabric using what is essentially a kombucha brew. The resulting product is bacterial cellulose, which she refers to as “vegetable leather.”
The recipe is surprisingly simple: all it requires is yeast, a pinch of bacteria, and lots of sweetened green tea. After about two weeks in a temperature-controlled bath, the mixture begins to grow fibers that naturally knit together into thick, slimy sheets of cellulose:
…which, as you can see, don’t exactly look like something you’d want to put on your body.
However, as unappealing as it may be in this state, these sheets are perfect for molding onto dress forms – and don’t even require stitching, as they “felt” together with no sewing required:
After a few days on the mould, the water evaporates and the fibers shrink, leaving you with something that is substantially less slimy and much more akin to clothing:
The finished product has a texture similar to papyrus, and is completely biodegradable – meaning that when its 5-year lifespan is up, you could toss it on the compost with your banana peels and potato skins.
Not on the runway...yet
As this project is still only a few years old, there are some kinks that need to be worked out. As mentioned above, the garments are currently quite perishable. And if you were to wear most BioCouture garments out in the rain, you would soon find yourself, well, quite naked. Lee’s goal is to find a way to make her creations water resistant, and did recently succeed in making an “EcoKimono” that is water-and-bug resistant:
Clothing of the future
So while for now these garments have some not-insignificant limitations, Lee has big plans for the future. She recently left her position as Senior Research Fellow at London’s School of Fashion/Textiles in order to pursue BioCouture independently. "The fashion textile industry is desperately looking to reduce its carbon footprint and look for materials that are more sustainable," she says. "To get it to where it needs to be involves some cutting-edge science but with the right funding in place it has potential to be a radical alternative to traditional textiles."
Hear, hear! I can’t say that I’d be ready to step out in one of her designs just yet (at least not without checking the forecast first), but I’m really eager to see where this project will go. Perhaps we’ll see Livia Firth walking the red carpet in one of Lee’s creations one day!
But for now, let’s take a look at some of the garments she has brewed up: