While the bio-leather has a lifespan of several years, it would take only a couple of months for it to biodegrade in a backyard compost heap.
As circularity is slowly making its way into the fashion industry, compostable materials are becoming more common for a growing number of designers looking to weave sustainability into their products.
One of the latest such products is the result of a partnership between New York streetwear brand Public School and material scientists Theanne Schiros, who have come together to create a pair of bio-fabricated trainers using a leather alternative grown by microbes.
Apart from the sole, which is made out of a cork sheet, the entire shoe, including the upper, midsole, and laces, is produced from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). Using a similar fermentation process to that used for making kombucha tea, the SCOBY creates a leather alternative that has up to a 97 percent lower carbon footprint than synthetic polyurethane leather.
To create the trainer’s bio-fabricated leather, Schiros made use of waste SCOBY from local kombucha brewery Om Champagne Tea in Westchester County, New York. The SCOBY was then placed into a base of sweetened tea, where it turns the sugar into bacterial nanocellulose (BNC) as part of the fermentation process.
As explained by Dezeen, BNC ranks better in elasticity and strength than the cellulose that is commonly derived from wood pulp or cotton and is further processed using a plant-based tanning and dyeing process to make it look and feel like actual leather.
What’s particularly impressive about the footwear is that, while the bio-leather has a lifespan of several years, it would take only a couple of months for it to biodegrade in a backyard compost heap.
“Enzymes produced by soil microbes break down the nanocellulose. Unless buried in a microbe-rich environment, the bio-leather maintains its durability and performance aside from normal wear and tear, comparable to canvas and leather,” said Schiros.