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Kombucha Fabric and the Future of Fashion 

In the past, much of our society have put little thought into where and how materials are sourced for their clothing, focusing solely on practical matters such as affordability and looks. However, the current generation demonstrates an increased awareness of their environmental footprint, resulting in a push for design companies to be more eco-friendly and/or use ethically sourced materials. To address this ongoing emphasis on fair trade and environmentally friendly initiatives, novel innovations are constantly introduced in the fashion industry: from wearable technology to recycling PET from water bottle into materials for clothing. The most exciting of these innovations though is the concept of growing your own clothes, as pioneered by Suzanne Lee. 

Instead of solely relying on traditional methods of making fabric (like weaving), her concept involves a simple fermentation process of sorts where -- instead of creating alcohol -- kombucha tea and sugar is used as a base to "grow" a leather-like fabric in the presence of various microbes (Lee, 2011). This new material is known as kombucha fabric. Due to its leather-like texture and drape, the material can be sewn together to make clothes; however, it also demonstrates a unique property where one could simply mould the material into the desired shape (Lee, 2011). 

Additionally, in terms of its environmental benefits, the kombucha fabric is not only biodegradable, but one could also simply "put it in a blender, re-blend it and make another garment" as stated by Dean Brough, head of Queensland University of Technology (Smail, 2016). As such, the kombucha fabric may be considered as the ultimate sustainable material. Furthermore, by being able to grow this material at home, we are able to eliminate existing production chains currently required to produce a single piece of clothing, which involved: the extraction of raw material, textile manufacturing, and the production of the actual clothing before the final product is finally sold to us the consumers. Therefore, by eliminating this chain, we can greatly reduce the environmental footprint of each garment and increase the efficiency of clothing production. In addition, the use of this fabric also increases the speed of production in the kombucha "leather" jacket will only take one week to make, while a real leather jacket will take a cow a lifetime to make (not to mention the need to sacrifice the cow itself). However currently, its main practical flaw is that it is not water-resistant - that is, the fabric is highly water absorbent, causing the clothing to become heavy and fall apart at the seams when wet (Lee, 2011). Lee herself states that this material will no way replace traditional materials like cotton, though it will certainly add to the variety available (Lee, 2011). 

Despite the fact that use of this technology is not yet feasible, it has revolutionized the way designers view materials. For example, armed with this new innovation, Lee started a London-based company call Biocouture (Lee, 2011). Biocouture connects bio-based materials and fashion. Other designers have also begun to follow in her footsteps. Sacha Laurin for instance won the Sacrament Film and Music Festival Fashion Challenge with her mermaid dress made out of kombucha fabric (Arts Editor, 2013). The dress was so unique that the Sacramento Fashion Week director decided to feature this dress in the fashion week itself (Arts Editor, 2013). On the other side of the world, a fashion design student, Alexandra Bell from Australia has used the textile as part of her collection as well (Smail, 2016). Although kombucha is not currently used by established designers, the fabric has certainly gained the attention of future Alexander McQueens and Karl Lagerfelds - i.e. the future greats of the fashion industry, inspiring them to think beyond conventional fashion trends like colour and silhouettes. 

Indeed, we are the generation that promotes change in the industry. As we hold large fashion houses accountable for their effects on the earth and human life, we create an ideal environment for innovation in fabric production - kombucha and 3D-printed fabrics being two example of such work. It is an exciting time to be a design student, because I believe that we are living through the onset of a revolution in not only the way we source our materials but in the field itself, as fashion continues to incorporate knowledge from other fields to create better, increasingly unique, and more sustainable clothing. In keeping with this ideal, and by breaking the conventional concept of what is considered fabric and clothing, kombucha fabric acts as a step in the right direction fro achieving a sustainable future. 

Resources

Arts Editor. (2013, October 23). Sacramento Fashion Week showcases kombucha fabric. Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://theaggie.org/2013/10/24/sacramento-fashion-week-showcases-kombucha-fabric/

Lee, S (2011, March). Grow your own clothes. Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_lee_grow_your_own_clothes?utm_source=tedcomshare

Smail, S. (2016, July 31). Scientists, designers work to make fermented kombucha tea into a textile. Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-31/kombucha-tea-scientists-design-work-to-make-clothing-textile/7674892 

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