Vegetable leather grown in a laboratory is the future of fashion
The demand for organic clothing has been rising steadily over the years though cotton-based clothes continue to dominate the green fashion landscape outrunning worthy rivals like jute and bamboo-based fabrics. However, a new project by University of the Arts London-based Senior Research Fellow Suzanne Lee could easily change everything we know about producing fabrics so far. Lee wrote a book called Fashioning the Future: Tomorrow’s Wardrobe that essentially explored the future of fashion and textile technologies and the idea to engineer a synthetic biological textile that can be used to make clothes with the carbon footprint generated in the process being only a trace of what traditional cloth manufacturing processes generate. The research project is being fine tuned by Lee and her team at a UK company called BioCouture.
Lee used a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria called kombucha to create a bacterial-cellulose fabric that can best be described as vegetable leather. By mixing sugar with a green tea solution in a large bathtub and adding a hint of yeast to it, Lee obtains a compact leather-like layer of material that can be used as fabric to make clothes. As an alternative to cotton, this bacterial-cellulose fabric is ecologically refreshing since the production of cotton alone requires 210,000 billion liters of water annually with a few billion liters of water and significant amounts of energy also being used in the process of converting the harvested cotton to thread, from thread to woven fabric, in the process of dying and chemical treatments as well as in the process of maintaining cotton clothes once the buyer has purchased it.
Not only does the ‘BioCouture’ fabric bypass the water and energy guzzling manufacturing process, it also allows the fabric to remain 100 percent natural, completely non-toxic and also entirely compostable. The BioCouture fabric also uses a fraction of the water in the dying process and Lee uses natural stains from fruits and vegetables like beetroot and blueberries to create colored fabrics with various designs and patterns. Suzanne Lee showcased the ‘BioCouture’ project during the 2011 London Design Week with a workshop at 100% Design’s 100% materials stand.
The only hurdle that the BioCouture fabric faces at this point in its development is the fact that it absorbs moisture too quickly and breaks down easily. To prevent the fabric from turning into jelly when exposed to water, water-repelling molecules would need to be introduced into the fabric manufacturing process at some point. As a fabric for the future, once it is water resistant enough, BioCouture could be used for fashioning building, cars, magazines, books, clothes, tents and almost anything and everything that uses fabric with an almost marginal carbon footprint in the manufacturing process and even lesser waste being created during the disposal of unusable fabric.