• A byproduct from kombucha tea has been used to create some rather stylish clothing items (Iowa State University)Source: Iowa State University
Researchers have created a leather-like material as a byproduct of fermenting kombucha tea - and the things they've made with it are pretty incredible.
Bianca Soldani

28 Apr 2016 - 3:15 PM  UPDATED 28 Apr 2016 - 3:15 PM

If you’re at all in with the hipster scene, you’ll be familiar with kombucha.

The fermented green or black tea is popular among the beard-and-bow-tie wearing of us for its presumed detoxification properties - despite little scientific evidence to support any actual health benefits.

The anti-oxidant rich brew may soon have another use however, after researchers at Iowa State University were able to manufacture a vest and a smart pair of brogues out of a gel-like film formed by bacteria and yeast in the fermenting kombucha tea.

Once harvested and dried, the material resembles leather and can be used in a similar way to create clothing, handbags and shoes that are sustainable, biodegradable, and vegan.

Currently the traditional clothing industry generates millions of tonnes of waste as consumers make room in their wardrobes for new season wears and “fast fashion” buys.

And if landfill wasn’t enough, the actual process of manufacturing also carries a significant environmental impact with the chemicals used to dye fabrics and treat animal hide sometimes seeping into nearby waterways and causing contamination.

The kombucha leather alternative can be grown and processed entirely in a lab; researchers are hopeful they can cut down the time frame from the current three to four weeks, in order to make it more viable for mass production.

Using a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the university team has so far created two vest and shoe prototypes.

One issue they have encountered is how the material reacts to moisture absorbed from the air and the person wearing the product. Unlike many commonly used fabrics, the kombucha film softens in moisture and becomes less durable, while colder temperatures can also have an effect - by making it brittle.

They surveyed a group of consumers, too - they were somewhat sceptical and questioned how comfortable the items would be and how easy it would be to care for them.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see where this goes from here.

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