Fashion bacteria

Riina O
United Kingdom (London)

Can bacteria generated from the kombucha drink industry be re-processed into a new, more sustainable, vegan, leather-like material? For ethical reasons, people often opt for non-animal derived products made of so-called “vegan leather”, unaware that it is just green washed PVC and PU-based plastic which is very problematic and harmful to the environment. In the context of the climate emergency, the fashion industry must switch to more sustainable practices, utilize waste streams and concentrate on more organic, natural and renewable resources. As an alternative to currently available PVC- and PU-based “vegan leather”, Riina Õun has developed a new material which utilizes the waste bacterial cellulose generated by local kombucha drink producers. It is called SCOBY-compo.

Through rigorous and meticulous experimentation and the use of natural oils, waxes and organic compounds, the material Riina has developed is water-resistant, flexible and strong. She has also enhanced the smell by using essential oils to develop a pleasant scent of its own. The result is a fully commercial, market-ready product that can be created in large quantities as a viable alternative for the fashion industry. To evidence the viability of her material, Riina has crafted a collection of bags and purses that each demonstrate a different technique for production – from traditional stitching to modular assembly and liquid moulding. Working closely with local communities, her aim is to create a fully circular, closed-loop system where the organic waste material can be harvested, processed, sold and eventually home composted at the end of its life cycle and, rather than contaminating the environment, nurture it.

Written by

Riina Õun (05 August 2020)


Riina Õun is a multi-disciplinary designer and researcher. As a recent Material Futures MA graduate, she concentrated on bio-design, materials research and development within the circular economy.

Project leader

Riina Õun, founder

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