To introduce Circular Economy models through the implementation of biomaterials that can be cultured and transformed on an industrial scale, developing a hybrid material collection promoting repairand reuse.
To create a five-piece kombucha tsugi-bag collection that showcases the integration of kombucha-based materials and second-hand textiles. The Project will develop a representative bag collection as a high-end proof-of-concept demonstration of the materials’ compatibility and product supply chain, implementing a scalable kombucha fabrication process with replicable standards validating the sustainable sourcing of second-hand textiles in Paris. The Project fosters local industry, circular economy and sustainable consumption developing local communities in urban farming, with the long-term aim of creating a hybrid shop using open source techniques.
Our range of five kombucha tsugi bags is a progression of thr34d5’ exploration with kombucha-based textiles. thr34d5 is a distributed, NGO design studio with members based in Columbia, South Africa and across Europe. As well as hailing from multicultural backgrounds, we are a multidisciplinary team too, which includes architects, engineers, designers and academics. Previously, some thr34d5 members had investigated kombucha-based textiles as part of their involvement in the maker movement and being passionate do-it-yourself-ers.
In 2018, members of thr3d5 collaborated with researcher, Dr Robert Pott; fashion designer Surzhana Radnaeva; and ecosystem designer, Benjamin Denjean, to propose a conceptual hospital gown made from kombucha-based textile for the IV edition of RESHAPE competition presented by Noumena and IN(3D)USTRY. Our proposal won the wearable technology category. In developing a range of five bags for the WORTH Project, our aim was to further the material qualities through improved kombucha recipes, treatments and natural dyeing techniques.
The reuse of resources is important to the thr34d5 studio, so we endeavour to promote it through many of our objects and projects. Even the kombucha-based textile can become reanimated again through moisture, as dictated by the user, giving it a new life or form. Applying the Japanese concept of kintsugi, we will join recycled and reused fabrics with the kombucha-based textile, to show that by embracing imperfections you can create a beautiful, strong repurposed object.
Our desire to do this is to highlight the strengths and versatility of our kombucha-based textile, and present it as an accessible alternative material that can be grown in a household kitchen or utilised in a luxury good. Also, kombucha SCOBYs are gross! They look like a kind of alien skin and feel funky when you prepare or treat them, but we believe that is part of what makes the material fun and interesting to play with. The sense of accomplishment received from growing, treating and making with a textile that you grew yourself will only attract more people into becoming agents of change – pushing back on the immense wastefulness of the fashion industry.
THE BIRTH OF THE PROJECT
As a member of the team actually welcomed a new baby into the wider thr34d5 family during the course of the WORTH Project, we’re actually unsure which birth was easier!
An aim of our project is to change the relationship that people have with their clothing and accessories. Shifting it from one of consumption to repair and reuse. We want people to care about the resources they’re using, and the scale of waste created by the fashion industry as a whole.
This is why our project seeks to address three different potential clients:
- Individuals: makers, do-it-yourself-ers, bio-hackers, and others that seek the agency of creating a material from household products that they can then utilise repair or fabricate items with.
- FabLabs/Bio-labs: these ‘third spaces’ frequently seek to implement workshops and projects with their community. A goal in networking with these spaces (currently EU focused) is to establish a distributed manufacturing network that is producing high-quality kombucha-based textiles and to increase the familiarity of the material.
- Business: Bacterial cellulose materials, similar to the kombucha-based textile grown in our process, have been found to have tensile strength of 200-300 MPa and a Young’s Modulus of 15-35 GPa. This compares favourably with conventional cow leather, which typically has a tensile strength and Young’s Modulus of 8-35 MPa and 0.1-0.5 GPa, respectively. As a kombucha-based textile can be grown with less resources/cheaper costs than cow leather, the material presents an excellent opportunity to the fashion industry.
The collection of five bags developed for the WORTH Project strives to build awareness of the material’s potential for all of the aforementioned clients. It is an aspirational project, as we believe that a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’, and that by promoting the possibilities of kombucha-based textiles more widely they can then be seen as a viable alternative to the more resource-intensive materials widespread in the fashion industry today.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Constantly, growing large, high-quality kombucha skins has been a challenge for this project, as early in the project we had to leave the space where our bio-lab was housed in Paris. Finding a new bio-lab location as Europe negotiated the COVID-19 restrictions wasn’t simple, but we got there in the end! The thr34d5 team then modified the lab so that it was operational through winter.
The WORTH Project was a wonderful opportunity for the team to experiment with new dyeing and treatment techniques and we have been excited by the discoveries made during this time. Utilising natural dyes, the embedding of flowers or other natural materials in the skins and moulding the material are some of the techniques that have been tested.
New growing recipes and treatments were also applied to achieve different kombucha skin colouration and properties.
Much of this research appears unique to thr34d5 – at least to the high-level of finish presented in the final material – which provides further market differentiators for the on-going success of this project. This period of experimentation flowed into our collaboration with contemporary artist, Waèl el Allouche in creating the range of five bags.
Having some information available to any potential ‘change agents’ in the public gained increased importance for us as the WORTH Project continued. The development of accessible, open-source recipes and patterns came to the fore, and there was dialogue with Waèl in creating bag designs that can be attempted by anyone who is interested – improving the access to this material.
Other difficulties encountered would be similar to the other WORTH projects, in terms of the hurdles presented by the global pandemic. Gratefully, our distributed manufacturing approach to the material did assist us in continuing to produce the kombucha-based textile from multiple European countries.
Fortunately, due to the nature of thr34d5, we have previously enjoyed collaborating with multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural team members on projects. Importantly, we’ve seen the immense benefits these types of partnerships can bring to the project outcomes, as the diversity frequently elevates the results received.
In partnering with Waèl el Allouche, we knew that with his artistic viewpoint, he would bring a unique perspective to the project. Waèl also appreciates craft and materials, which aided the development of our five bags as he wanted to showcase the strengths of the material through the designs.
Having a consistent dialogue between thr34d5 and Waèl made for a valuable interaction when exploring the technical aspects of the material, aesthetics and practicalities in crafting the bags. These discussions elevated the final bags, but also provided many new research or experimentation ideas that we could do with kombucha-based textiles.
The partnership wasn’t always easy, but great things can emerge out of a little friction, tension and rigour, which is what we hope has been achieved here.
Our time with the WORTH mentor was very valuable in motivating us to explore different business models and opportunities through the material that we have been developing.
In the future:
- We hope to continue to develop our network with makers that are growing kombucha for textiles. Currently, we provide knowledge and assistance, but we aim to conduct workshops, offer recipes (some open-source, some paid), starter SCOBY kits and growing boxes.
- Launch an online store that sells a selection of unique products made from kombucha-based textiles that we have been creating. As well as presenting a platform for other makers to sell similar products from the material that they have grown.
- Partner with a bio-lab or fashion company to advance the quality of the kombucha-based textile further and increase the volume of material produced to what would be commercially-viable levels.
The above all contributes to an increased awareness of alternative materials that could assist in making the fashion industry much less wasteful.
To achieve this, thr34d5 requires additional technical support, kombucha growers and investment.
thr34d5 is excited to collaborate with passionate innovators on projects relating to the kombucha-based textile, as well as topics related to design, architecture, water and open science.
If you are in the position of undertaking testing or can assist with the increased production of the kombucha-based textile, we’d love to hear from you!
Please reach out to thr34d5 via email@example.com – thank you.