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A Veggie Leather Alternative

Researchers from Iowa State University have developed a new form of synthetic leather using cellulose fibers taken from kombucha tea, along with vinegar and sugar, made in shallow plastic tanks. When a colony of bacteria and yeast is added, the material grows on the top of the liquid’s surface, where it can be harvested and dried.

The researchers have successfully used the material to make prototype garments, including shoes and a vest. It’s 100 percent biodegradable, so when the fabric gets wet, it softens and becomes less durable; in very low temperatures, it can become brittle.

Young-A Lee, Ph.D., associate professor of apparel, merchandising and design at Iowa State University, in Ames, says, “Fashion, to most people, is an ephemeral expression of culture, art and technology, manifesting itself in practical form. Fashion companies keep producing new materials and clothing, from season to season, year to year, to fulfill consumers’ desires and needs. Think about where these items eventually go. They will take up tremendous underground spaces of the Earth, like other trash.”

Spanish designer Carmen Hijosa has created Piñatex, another faux-leather product made from pineapple leaf fibers as a more sustainable and cruelty-free alternative. She acted after seeing how leather tanneries operate.

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