Forget drinking fermented tea, Queensland design students are creating clothing from it.
Queensland University of Technology, in a partnership with State Library’s The Edge, have been brewing kombucha, a fermented tea, for the last two years to research how the harvested curd, or SCOBY, can be harnessed as a workable bio-textile.
QUT fashion academic Dean Brough said kombucha fabric was a natural, sustainable, biodegradable and reusable material.
“Making kombucha fabric is almost like brewing beer,” he said.
“We produce it by fermenting tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY.
“This forms a fast-growing curd on the surface which we harvest, wash and dry to make a material of a strength and texture somewhere between leather and paper.
“It’s versatile – it can be cut, stitched, moulded, glued, oiled, dyed, painted, waterproofed and laser-etched.”
Mr Brough said when the curd is first harvested it is soft and wet, and provides for an “emotive” experience.
“When it first comes out, before it is dried, it has an emotive experience because it looks like skin,” he said.
“When it is wet it can be anywhere from two to three to four to five centimetres thick, it is really slimy and spongy and very skin-like.
“It does have a smell which is like a sweet honey smell.”
The curd then gets washed in a washing machine and dried over the course of a few days.
“We dry it and it becomes a vegan leather,” Mr Brough said.
“Kombucha has been around for thousands of years, but only recently been used in this way.
“There are a couple of people in the world doing it but no one has experimented on how to grow it.”
And experiment they have, with anything from onions to red wine to coffee ending up in the fermenting process to change the nature of the end-product.
“The fact you can put it in a washing machine when it comes out shows how strong it is, you can get quite brittle kombucha when it is thin or have it at the thickness like leather of shoe where it is really strong,” Mr Brough said.
“It has a very strong commercial proposition.
“It has the ability to keep its shape, keep its form, it’s not a weak fabric.”
QUT design students have embraced the bio-textile and have created a number of items with the kombucha, from waistcoats to briefcases, despite being a bit “aghast” at the idea to begin with.
“In the last couple of years our fashion design students have been blown away, we take them to The Edge where they can grow their own fabric and it takes them out of their comfort zone from what fashion can be,”Mr Brough said.
“You can have a vat in the shape of a pattern so you can grow it to what you want it to be whereas with other fabrics, you have to put the pattern on top.
“In the normal production of fabrics, you can have 20-40 per cent of waste, which is really incredible from a landfill perspective.
“When we start working with it, you don’t have to sew it, you can glue it, mould it, make something easy out of a shape when it is wet…”
“From a designer point of view, it is cool because most clothing is 2D, whereas you actually form it in a 3D shape – already you have far more design potential.”
Mr Brough said the fabric was a “democratic material” as the cultures were readily available at health food stores, giving anyone the chance to grow their own bio-textile.
“The idea of homemaker, that space where you are a power in your own making, it is becoming quite strong, it is growing quite rapidly,” he said.
The kombucha fabric process will be on display to the public on Sunday August 28 at QUT Kelvin Grove campus as part of CreateX.
Visitors can experiment with the bio-textile themselves and will be given their own SCOBY to take home.