Introducing Plant Chicago’s newest intern, Eva Durance, who is experimenting with SCOBYs as a means of textile production. For this project we’re partnering with fellow The Plant tenant Matt Lancor of Kombuchade, who is graciously lending us equipment, starter cultures, and technical support.
I am a student at Columbia College Chicago majoring in Fashion Studies with a concentration in Fashion Merchandising and minoring in Environmental Studies.
While searching through possibilities in combining a few of my main interests—biology, clothing, and sustainable practices—I was only able to connect a couple at a time. I connected sustainability and fabric production, but had trouble linking the two with biology, other than working with typical plant fibers. Apart from reforming production methods of these plant-based fibers, how can biology play into forming materials that don’t require intensive harmful chemical baths and excessive water use? I had trouble imagining such a textile until I met with a handful of unique faculty at my school.
After conversing with my college faculty from biology, fashion history, marine science, and textile sourcing departments, I developed a more thorough understanding of new developments in sustainable clothing and material production. From businesses that create textiles from mycelium, recycled plastic bottles, and pineapple fiber, to big brands that take back and repair damaged clothing, I was inspired by many insightful examples. After searching for similar organizations in Chicago, I was led to Plant Chicago’s Open Farm Hours in December.
One of the projects showcased in the aquaponic farm is a mycelium-based textile project developed by another student, Xilli Basset. I next attended a Chicago Social Mycology meeting in order to see what the fungus-growing facilities were like and to assess the feasibility of my project. Due to the relatively slow growth of mycelium, I decided to shift to using a byproduct already present in The Plant: SCOBYs (Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast.) These are a byproduct of kombucha brewing, which is perfect because there are two kombucha companies in The Plant.
Through this internship, I am looking to expand on recent research and developments in bio-textiles made from SCOBYs. After looking into many sources, I am modeling my experiment on current successful procedures. My research is going down two paths: the brewing of kombucha specifically for harvesting SCOBY, and the testing of post-harvest processing on existing leftover SCOBY. Currently, I am experimenting on these smaller pieces of SCOBY, testing different soaking chemicals and drying techniques to see if certain methods make the material stronger or weaker. While experimenting on these smaller pieces, Matt Lancor from Kombuchade is assisting in growing six large sheets of SCOBY in a closet heated to 80°F. This will allow the bacteria and yeast to thrive and quickly produce the main product in a SCOBY—cellulose. Once the large sheets grow to a given thickness, I can air-dry and treat them with an oil solution. This oil should make the dried sheets flexible and supple, with a similar texture to thin leather.
As this experiment progresses, I will be evaluating the textiles produced by SCOBYs at 2, 3, and 4 weeks of growth, as well as further researching ways of binding together scrap SCOBY from kombucha brewing.
At the end of this project, I hope to have created a durable, flexible, and appealing leather-like product!