Preeti Arya, Textile Development and Marketing, has developed a bio-based, biodegradable textile using a combination of lab-grown materials including SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) made from kombucha. In addition to its earth-friendly properties, the new composite is also edible.
Her son had challenged her to create the textile. He knew about her interest in sustainability and asked, “Why don’t you make something completely biodegradable?” She applied for and received a Faculty Development Grant and a Sustainability Grant to fund the research.
Arya experimented with various combinations of materials. It took a few attempts to get the mix right.
Vartest Laboratories, an independent New York City textile-testing lab, found that the material was strong enough for numerous applications, including as a bag, wallet, or glasses case.
The textile is a medium brown that darkens as it ages. Though it is somewhat durable, it absorbs water and emits an odor, and it takes weeks to grow; more research will be necessary before it can be scaled up for industry.
But it is easy to cut and sew. Arya asked Sarah Mullins, current co-chair of the Fashion Department and former chair of Footwear and Accessories Design, to create accessories from the material. Mullins stitched a stylish handbag, clutch, and tote bag.
“It has the look of leather, the drape of bonded textiles, the tenacity of textiles,” Arya says. “It is made using edible materials and will be consumed by microbes when thrown in a landfill.”
But both faculty members would discourage calling it “vegan leather,” partly because leather is a relatively sustainable material, as it is made from beef industry waste. “It’s not fabric, and it’s not leather,” Mullins says. “It needs its own category.”