Bio-Sneakers Find an Audience in Switzerland

Bio-based sneakers
A prototype of a biodegradable sneaker made from a leather substitute.

A pair of fully biodegradable sneakers that two FIT faculty members worked on were featured in an exhibition on circularity in Bern, Switzerland. The shoes were on display at the Wyss Academy for Nature, as the first items in a show titled Towards Circularity: Lessons from Nature.

The “bio-leather” sneakers were a creation of Theanne Schiros, associate professor of Science and chief science officer of Werewool, which creates bio-based performance fabrics, and Anne Marika Verploegh Chassé, a shoemaker and instructor in Footwear and Accessories Design. The two collaborated with the design label Public School New York and researchers at Columbia University to create a substitute for leather made from microbes and fashion it into a sneaker.

Display window with sneakers
A display window at the Wyss academy features “bio-leather” sneakers.

This “bio-leather” is produced by SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), the same process used to brew kombucha. The designers used two processes to make the leather, growing it from a base of tea and sugar and repurposing waste from a local kombucha brewery. The sneakers were dyed with natural dyes.

Says Schiros: “We can learn from nature, our ancestors and each other to build circular materials and circular societies.”

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