Sep. 17 2021, Published 10:18 a.m. ET
As more and more clothing brands have started ditching genuine leather for animal-free alternatives, we've seen leathers made from cactus, pineapple leaves, cereal crops, and corn. And now, vegan textile crafters are starting to make leather from SCOBY. That's right — the fermentation vehicle that's generally used to brew kombucha can actually be put to use a second time, for the sake of clothing production.
"Wearable products made of the green-tea based cellulose fiber mats can be an alternate future in which we move to a cradle-to-cradle (C2C) system instead of relying on materials derived from unsustainable sources," reads the abstract of a study on the matter, called Sustainable Fibers for Fashion Industry, which was written by Iowa State professor, Young-A Lee.
"The outcome of this innovative and sustainable design effort is presented by creating aesthetically pleasing, biodegradable apparel prototypes and providing a promising future for this nonwoven material as an alternate future suitable for the apparel and footwear industries."
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SCOBY is actually an acronym, which stands for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast," according to Healthline. It's a dense, rubbery, yellow-ish, and somewhat smelly mass that's required during the kombucha fermentation and production processes, getting bigger every time you brew a new batch. You can either make your own SCOBY with a kit, or buy a ready-made one from a trusted online source — preferably one that's organic, so you don't run the risk of tainting your products with pesticides.
And although a typical SCOBY looks pretty disgusting, it can be repurposed for some closet must-haves like handbags, shoes, wallets, watchbands, and hats when you're done brewing your booch. To make your SCOBY resemble leather, it has to undergo a pretty intensive process — but it's definitely something to consider for kombucha brewers to go zero-waste (and to potentially make some money off their "waste!").
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SCOBY leather is super flexible, it's versatile, and once it's undergone the necessary treatment, it can be used just like traditional leather — except it's totally biodegradable, sustainably made, and, of course, vegan. According to Grow Your Pantry, if you'd like to make SCOBY leather yourself, you'll start by brewing two bags of black tea and adding sugar. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, let the mixture cool. Pour it into a container that's covered with a cloth, and put the SCOBY inside.
Your SCOBY will sit in the jar of sweet tea for a few weeks, to let it grow. After a month has passed, you'll dip the SCOBY into your dye of choice, spread it on a wooden board to dry. Then, you can "tan" it with beeswax and coconut oil, rubbing it all over the dried SCOBY to make sure it's waterproof. For more on the process, watch the video, below.
Hopefully more kombucha companies will learn about SCOBY leather, to repurpose their old SCOBYs — and to produce an animal-free textile! The fashion world could definitely use more SCOBY leather.
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