The Kombucha Dress is the Ultimate No-Waste Fashion Move

The tea’s bacteria residue can be dehydrated and turned into faux leather, canvas, and even silk

Kombucha couture
Kombucha couture on the runway.Olha Melokhina/Facebook

The words "edible fashion" might call to mind the image of candy underwear, but there's actually a whole industry dedicated to creating sustainable clothing from food and food waste for the purpose of waste-reduction rather than seduction.

Perhaps best known in the eco-friendly food-as-fashion movement is kombucha, the fermented drink that's been both lauded for its alleged health benefits and ridiculed as a hipster food fad. According to National Geographic, the bacteria left after brewing kombucha can be dried to create a versatile material that can mimic the texture of faux leather, canvas, or even silk. It's the premise of Kombucha Couture, a project started by California designer Sacha Laurin.

If you've made your own kombucha before, you know there's a "mother" of SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, that resembles a floating brown blob. During the the week-long fermentation process, the asexual "colony" can reproduce by feeding on sucrose, yielding offspring that can be used to produce more of the tea. Laurin, a cheesemaker by trade, was drawn to the material not only for the similarities between growing a SCOBY and producing cheese, but also for its versatility and durability. Her clothing, a mix of bold haute couture and daily custom-wear, has been featured at Sacramento Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week.

Beyond kombucha, scientists, start-ups and clothing manufacturers alike are pushing the boundaries of what can be used to make clothing, from a company in Sicily that's repurposing citrus peels to Filipino farmers exporting pineapple leaves as a natural canvas material. In a time when both the worlds of food and fashion are in desperate need of sustainability, kombucha couture is giving us a little bit of hope.