Edible Innovations: These Dresses are Made from Kombucha

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Edible Innovations: These Dresses are Made from Kombucha

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

Born in Australia and now focused in Davis, California, Sacha Laurin began as a cheese maker. However, these past two years, she has been making jewelry and clothing out of kombucha. Most people know kombucha as a trendy health beverage made from fermented tea. Originally from Asia, it is now pretty easy to find in many parts of the western world as well. As we’ve discussed before, kombucha is a fermented tea comprised of sugar, water, tea, and SCOBY(Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). It’s a rubbery raft that floats on the surface of the tea, housing the yeast that transforms sweet beverage into tangy, fizzy kombucha. The SCOBY also seals off the fermenting drink from the air and protects it from undesirable bacterias.

Laurin figured out that SCOBY can also be used for a very different purpose: making cloth.

Laurin got hooked on kombucha in 2011; but even before that, she was brewing it in her garage and offering the drink to her friends. Once, she went out and threw her SCOBY out and it accidentally caught one of the branches of a nearby tree and hung there for a while. When she noticed it later, she realised that the SCOBY actually solidified into a solid form that had an interesting, yet stable, texture. Initially, she started drying the SCOBY out and making earrings for her friends. But then she noticed that different types of tea could create different colours of fabric. The durability of the fabric could be controlled by the thickness of the Scoby as well. “Making clothing out of kombucha,” she says, “isn’t all that different from cheese-making. In both cases, we are using the alchemy of the fermentation process to render a raw material timeless.”

Laurin isn’t the first to explore the possibilities of edible clothing, but she is definitely the first one to do it with kombucha at such a scale. Her company is called Kombucha Couture. We got the chance to ask her a few questions.

Sasha, what’s the process of making an actual dress out of SCOBY?

It is very simple!

First of all, boil 1 gallon of water and add 6 black teabags (for phytonutrient/nitrogen source) and 1 cup of sugar (as carbohydrates fuel the fermentation and production of cellulose. When tea is cool, pour into a tub (approx 1/2″ deep), add a small 1″ “nugget” of kombucha SCOBY, and cover. Let sit for 1 week at room temperature. After 1 week, harvest the mat of cellulose that the original kombucha SCOBY has produced over the surface of the tub. At this point, lay the cellulose mat out on parchment paper and allow to dry in 75F with indirect sunlight. This takes 1-5 days depending on size. When cellulose is dry, I colour it with acid reactive dharma dye or food colouring and cut and sew it like a leather textile.

The process is very simple as I allow nature to do all of the production. The bacteria in the SCOBY is a strain of acetobacter which naturally spins cellulose to both protect itself and keep it floating so it has access to oxygen. It is related to the vinegar producing bacteria which also create cellulose SCOBYS. It is a very natural process and just requires nutrients (tea), sugar, and an ambient temperature for the SCOBY to begin spinning cellulose. Once I have harvested a mat, I discard half of the acidic tea and refill with fresh tea. There is enough bacteria in the liquid that a kombucha “nugget” isn’t really even necessary, although it speeds up production.

Where can people buy your creations?

Customers contact me individually via email with an idea or inspiration they have for a garment, and I sketch ideas and send them a free quote for the custom piece. I’m a maker after all! I also make little jewellery: they are available online at our Etsy store, which is linked through Kombucha Couture’s Facebook and website.

What would you advise to makers who want to enter the edible clothing space?

I think edible clothing has exciting potential! Kombucha SCOBY is edible as a vegan jerky (although I don’t know it is commercially available yet), so Kombucha clothes are edible when they’re not coloured or coloured with food dye or food grade additives. I would say “Go for it!” If Lady Gaga wears it, you’re set!

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Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini


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