Researchers Create Cruelty-Free Leather Made from Kombucha

A mixture of fiber from the fermented tea, sugar, vinegar, bacteria, and yeast yields a new material that some hope can replace the animal-based version.


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Researchers at Iowa State University have created a new plant-based leather made from kombucha—a popular fermented tea beverage—in hopes of revolutionizing the fashion industry. Using cellulose fibers left over from kombucha tea, vinegar and sugar are added to a colony of bacteria and yeast to grow the new material, which floats to the top of the liquid mixture. The bacteria is then harvested and dried to create the finished leather-like material. Researchers say the new plant-based find is a promising early iteration (the material becomes too pliable when exposed to moisture and brittle when exposed to cold) of something that could have a significant impact on the environment. “Fashion companies keep producing new materials and clothing, from season to season, year to year, to fulfill consumers’ desire and needs,” Associate Professor Young-A Lee said. “Think about where these items eventually go. They will take tremendous underground spaces of the earth like other trash.” Lee’s team has already created vegan shoes and vests from the material and are looking into addressing the structural issues and opportunities for mass production. The new discovery follows Spanish fashion designer Carmen Hijosa’s Piñatex leather made from pineapple.