My work advances efforts in self-grown and biodegradable leather through a fermenting and harvesting process, made popular by fashion designers in 2016. To leverage its flexible and durable qualities, I augmented the traditional process of fermenting kombucha and harvesting a layer of SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, which is created as a byproduct of the drink that is usually either discarded or cooked. Because of its lightweight and breathable qualities as well as its similarity to real leather, SCOBY leather would also have positive implications for facemask production in the current pandemic. This SCOBY is also a sustainable alternative for animal leather or clear vinyl. By altering the ingredients used to grow kombucha SCOBY, I was able to develop a transparent SCOBY from fermenting soda beverages. While the general population has been struggling with facial recognition, and the deaf and hard of hearing depend on facial expressions for communication, I hoped to create a universal solution by designing a transparent mask that is adjustable to all facial shapes.
SCOBY is typically made up of acetobacter xylinoides or acetobacter ketogenum yeast, and any bacteria that produce acetic and gluconic acid. Kombucha is normally brewed by adding a starter tea and SCOBY to a caffeinated sweet tea. The starter tea introduces the initial colony of bacteria and yeast to the system, though they can develop on their own over time. The bacteria and yeast feed off the caffeine and sugar in sweet tea to survive. To create a transparent version of kombucha leather, I needed to find an alternative solution that contains sugar and caffeine without any harsh preservatives that would kill off bacteria. However, most clear sodas are not caffeinated and therefore cannot grow yeast. I originally experimented with Mountain Dew and some baking soda to neutralize the acid, but its other toxic chemicals killed off my bacteria instantly. For my second test, I used Coca-Cola and milk for my base. The milk interacts with the phosphoric acid in the cola to produce a brown precipitate, leaving the rest of the solution clear and acid-free. The resulting SCOBY colony is a transparent sheet with qualities similar to clear vinyl, and any remaining solution can be reused for the next batch.