The Kombucha Project Part 2

Selection of fashion student work, see credits at bottom of post, photos: Alice Payne

Clockwise from top: Sam Smith and Jack Milne; Neneh Browne and Courtney Foster; John York Hon and Sofia Moreno Marcos; Ashley Donald and Mel Hocking; Rachel Schoch and Kaydee Fallon; Bronte Armstrong and Aaron Waters-Marsh.

The Kombucha Project has reached its conclusion, with an exhibition of QUT Fashion student work held at The Edge, Brisbane. As described in Part 1, we grew textiles formed from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) in kombucha, a fermented green tea. Despite a shaky start and initial difficulty imagining how this could become ‘fashion’, the students embraced the experience and all found a different approach to the brief.

In some of the works the natural honey colour of the pellicle was shown to its advantage, in others the pellicle was dyed or spray painted.

The students also developed new ways to manipulate the pellicle while still wet, including moulding, weaving, embossing, or pressing it onto fabric. The dry pellicle was stitched by hand or machine, or painted, embellished, folded and tucked.

The pellicle in production at The Edge

The pellicle in production at The Edge

Through integrating the kombucha textile with other materials the students developed some inventive and beautiful garments and accessories. The different weights and thicknesses of the kombucha leant themselves to soft and flexible body coverings as well as sturdy accessories and bags.

Fashion students Neneh and Courtney moulded the wet kombucha onto a mannequin torso to create their swimsuit. Ashley and Mel also worked with the wet pellicle to create a woven design. Isabel and Celia created their ‘Lector Shawl’ of moulded faces.

Kaydee and Rachel experimented with different textures and colours to create a bodice. Shannon and Claire also worked with the dry kombucha to create a bodice and peplum.

The natural origins of the kombucha were highlighted in John and Sofia’s sculpted rose garland. Jess and Jolie integrated cloth with the kombucha and fabric to form a Mod dress. Sam and Jack developed detachable embossed collars for a white shirt.

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From left: bag by Isabella Jacuzzi and Ally Stokes; shoes by Ellen Chandler and Louise Chaney; the works on display at The Edge.

Experiments with spray painting turned the kombucha into flexible vegetable leather. Ellen and Louise created silver platforms, while Ally and Isabella designed an upside-down silver bag. Bronte and Aaron created bags with laser cut Perspex handles and hand-stitching.

The material and process was new to staff and students alike, so Dean and I learnt alongside the students and experimented with stitching and folding the kombucha into bags.

In a happy twist, the US kombucha designer Sacha Laurin heard about our project and flew out from California this week to meet us. She shared her wealth of knowledge and experience in growing textiles from bacteria with Mick and Peter from The Edge.

She was fascinated to hear how our project developed, and to see the student experimentation. We toasted the project and the SCOBYs with a glass of kombucha brewed by Sacha.

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Working with this unlikely material has been a rewarding experience for all concerned. There is great potential for further experimentation and development with this textile. Kombucha in its various forms can share the properties of paper, leather, or cloth, and can be opaque or translucent, hard or flexible. It is fully biodegradable and will grow in a simple solution of sugar and tea.

As Peter at The Edge pointed out, it is a truly democratic material that anyone can grow and experiment with. After connecting with Sacha, we look forward to new approaches, experiments and conversations to come.

We would like to thank Mick Byrne and Peter Musk from The Edge for guiding us through the process, Sacha Laurin for generously sharing her time and experience, and most of all the first year Fashion students for their willingness to engage with a non-traditional material.

The exhibition has been on display at The Edge since Halloween, and is in now in its final days.

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