Growing textiles in fermented green tea is not something most fashion design students expect from their studies. But this semester, first year fashion students at QUT are doing just that.
In collaboration with the State Library’s The Edge, the students are working on the Kombucha Project – growing textiles from living bacteria.
The process begins by adding a scoop of live bacteria starter culture (similar to that of yoghurt or sour dough) to a sweet green tea, coffee, or plant food solution. Over several weeks, the bacteria produce a flexible curd or pellicle that sits on top of the liquid. This can be harvested, washed, and dried to make a material with characteristics somewhere between leather and paper.
The pellicle is made from cellulose, just like cotton and paper. But unlike cotton and paper, the individual fibres are much shorter and literally grow together to produce a non-woven textile.
According to The Edge’s resident science catalyst Peter Musk, the cellulose grown from the bacteria is one of the purest forms possible, and for this reason the pellicle has other applications in burns treatment as well as potentially growing replacement blood vessels.
In a fashion context, this unlikely material has been used by designers Suzanne Lee and Sacha Laurin. The attraction lies in the idea of literally ‘growing’ clothes, and from a material that is fully and safely biodegradable.
For the students, initial reactions to the Kombucha project ranged from enthusiasm to nausea – the latter unsurprising given the smell of the fermenting material, and the creepy skin-like texture of the harvested pellicle!
In October, the students will exhibit their final artefacts made from the Kombucha pellicle at The Edge.