This Biodegradable Leather Is Made From Fermented Tea
Lee, an associate professor at Iowa State University, created the tea leather as a sustainable alternative to real leather. But it’s not so much leather’s animal origins that led her to find a better option. It’s the waste.
"Fashion companies keep producing new materials and clothing, from season to season, year to year, to fulfill consumers’ desire and needs,at Iowa State. "Think about where these items eventually go. They will take tremendous underground spaces of the Earth like other trash."
Lee’s tea-derived fibers are completely biodegradable, so they can become as ephemeral as the fashion cycle that they serve. The cellulose fibers are brewed in a vat and fed with vinegar and sugar. Lee and her team have received a research grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to spin these fibers into clothing. The biggest advantage, apart from not being made out of cow peelings, is that it has an extremely low environmental impact. There are no harmful chemicals to leach into the ground, for instance, and the materials are about as renewable as it’s possible to be.
There are many practical problems with Lee’s tea leather, though. It’s susceptible to moisture, which softens it, and cold, which hardens it to the point of brittleness. It also takes up to four weeks to grow and prepare a batch, although compared to growing and feeding a cow, this is almost instant. The process only seems slow when compared to other artificial fibers.
But perhaps the biggest challenge in making fashion more sustainable is educating those in the industry to take the problem seriously.