I grew my own vegan leather. Heres how you can too

I recently published an article titled “Vegan Leather and the Need for Sustainable Fashion” , wherein I touched upon the subject of vegan leather. To get a better understanding of the topic, I recommend you read the article here.

The reason I wrote it, was because of my interest in reading about sustainability in fashion, through which I came across something called kombucha scoby leather, being researched on by Suzanne Lee. (SCOBY stands for- Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast)

Checkout her ted talk here.

Soon i decided to give it a shot. The overall experience was enlightening and felt like a really fun science experiment. Imagining a future where we may be able to grow our own clothes out of microbes, and then burying them when they wear out, is crazy!

Disclaimer- This was just an experimental project i tried at home, not in a science lab and by no means I claim my method to be perfect.

PROCEDURE:

Notes from my journal

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  1. Sugar (1.5 cups)
  2. Tea bags or tea leaves (4 tsp)
  3. Water (7 cups)
  4. Unpasteurised kombucha (1 cup) ( I used Borecha classic kombucha)
  5. Plastic containers/ jars
  6. Gloves
  7. Maybe a mask (in a later stage, because it tends to give out a strong smell)
  8. A saucepan

STEP 1

Gather all ingredients. Spray the utensils with a sanitizer to avoid contamination.

STEP 2

Make the sweet tea mixture by boiling tea with sugar, on a medium flame for about 10–12 minutes.

STEP 3

Let it cool down completely, then add one cup of kombucha to the mixture.

STEP 4

Transfer it into jars or plastic containers. Remember that ultimately the scoby will take up the shape of the container, so get creative and find a container size that you like. I used disposable plastic containers. Cover the containers with tissue paper or any scrap fabric, to ensure aeration.

STEP 5

Place your containers in an undisturbed corner, and make sure it does not get direct sunlight. You may also cover your setup loosely with a cloth or newspaper to prevent flies.

STEP 6

Leave the setup for 3–4 weeks, while regularly checking it, to ensure proper growth and look out for any mould or fungus growing on it. If you notice black fungal spots or white fuzzy spots, it is time to toss that one out! But if it is just developing in one or two spots, you can scrape that part out.

turmeric, office time flowers, marigolds

STEP 7

When you are satisfied with the thickness of your scoby, you may take them out. ( Generally, a thickness of about 2 cm is good enough). Here, an optional step would be to dye the scoby if you like, but if not, the final result will still be the same, in terms of the material. I personally used organic dyes, made of flowers, turmeric, food colour etc. For this, just boil things like flowers etc in water, let it cool and then replace the initial tea-kombucha mixture with the dye water and let the scoby rest in it for 3–4 days.

STEP 8

Lay out some newspapers, wear gloves and a mask (pungent smell alert!) and begin to take the scoby out. It will be slimy and slippery. You may gently run them under tap water to clean them.

Then set it in the sunlight, for a minimum of 3–4 days, to make sure the scoby is completely dry. Once dry, it will start to loose its smell and gain strength.

A fun property of the material is that it will take up the texture and shape of whatever it is dried on. Say for example you place the scoby on net, well, it will take up that texture. Or if you place it in a bowl, it will take that shape!

Also, note that the thickness of the scoby when it is wet, will affect the final thickness of the dried one. Thicker ones tend to be stiffer, while thinner ones will dry out to be fragile.

(I dried it on bubble wrap, hence the texture)

STEP 8

Well, there you have it. Your very own, homegrown, vegan, bio degradable leather.

If you have bigger samples, you may try making things like a wallet, a purse or maybe even a jacket!

NOTE:

The material, when dried, is not water proof. You may buff it with beeswax or oil, or a mixture of both, to make it somewhat waterproof. I used coconut oil.

Researchers are still trying to look into ways to make it waterproof.

RESOURCES:

  • Suzanne Lee’s ted talk-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p3-vl9VFYU&t=200s

  • GIY BioBuddies youtube video-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBhT2blZYwo

  • Link to buy the Kombucha that I used-

(also available on https://borecha.com/home/ )

  • A guide i came across-

https://publiclab.org/system/images/photos/000/023/355/original/k_leather_HealthMLab.pdf