Every day, I drink at least three cups of coffee or tea, the used beverage tossed into the bin without giving much care about where they go and what happens to them. It turns out several high-tech companies have taken my hot beverage excesses into consideration. I dug a little deeper and came across a London based designer named Suzanne Lee who uses tea, sugar and a certain strain of bacteria to produce a bio-couture fabric that looks like vegetable leather.
The process begins with her brewing the tea of choice (usually Kombucha tea originally from China) about thirty litres of tea at once in a large steel bucket. While it’s still hot, she adds a considerable amount of sugar. This solution is stirred until the sugar is completely dissolved. The brewed tea and sugar solution is poured into a growth bath and allowed to seat until the temperature drops below 30℃. Once the temperature is cool enough, the living bacteria are added side along acetic acid. However an optimum temperature has to be maintained, this favours the growth of the living microorganisms which in turn will promote fermentation of the cellulose in the tea and sugar solution. A thermostat and heat mat are connected to the growth bath to keep the temperature optimum for the living microorganism.
Fig. 1; Cross section showing the fermentation of the tea and sugar solution by micro-organisms
Future fashion, March 2011.
The bacteria feeds on the sugar nutrients in the solution and produce tiny nano fibers as by products. See Fig. 1. This tiny fibres stick to each other and settle at the surface of the growth bath. This tiny fibres form a thick layer as time passes. After about two to four weeks of fermentation, the layer, about one inch thick and 90% water in composition, is taken out of the growth bath , washed in cold soapy water and air dried on a wooden sheet.
Fig. 2; Lee washing the bio-fabric in soapy water. Crafty Little Secret.
Fig. 3; Lee spreading the bio-couture fabric on wooden sheets to air dry.
74 Fashion consulting
The fabric can be manipulated while wet to form shapes and texture when dry. See the pictures below.
Fig. 4; From left to right, the bio-fabric wet on net and dried up with the holes of the net as its new texture. Future Fashion, March 2011.
Fig. 5; After been treated with vegetable dye. Textile Art Center , July 2012.
Fig. 6; After being treated with Indigo dye. The Creator’s Project ,Nov 2011.
Fig. 7; After an interesting detail was impressed when wet to create the textured detail on the blouse. The Creator’s Project, Nov 2011.
The downside to this bio-fabric is that it is hydrophilic, meaning if a dress made from it is worn under the rain, the dress will absorb such much water that the seams will rip from the heavy weight. This bio fabric is still in its infancy and if the bacteria strain used during its production could be altered genetically to produce hydrophobic nano-fibres instead, it’ll improve the success rate of bio-couture fabrics. It’s safe to say that the fashion industry will have more fabric options for garment production, especially one that’s biodegradable and relatively easy to produce in the future. Hopefully more research will be done into bio-fabrics and other smart sustainable materials that wouldn’t be a threat to us and our environment.
Watch Suzanne Lee’s Ted Talk here
Until my next post,