Modern Meadow’s Suzanne Lee molds entire garments out of household items, and now you can too.
Vegans looking for a cruelty-free leather jacket, you are in luck: you can now grow one at home. A few years back BioCouture’s Suzanne Lee developed a method, combining fermented bacteria, yeast, and sweetened green tea, to create whole outfits from biodegradable matter. Now Lee has taken a role as Creative Director for Modern Meadow, a Brooklyn startup that’s pioneering new, bovine-friendly forms of leather by “coaxing” animal tissue cells into tough, cowskin-like material. The end products are of varying durability, texture, and weigh, much like real leather—only more inventive. “Imagine leather that’s as lightweight and transparent as a butterfly wing or has the natural stretch of rubber,” Lee explains in Popular Science’s March 2015 issue. “Or imagine a material with the dynamic responsiveness of the skin of a chameleon.”
Lee first began experimenting with different forms of vegan leather a decade earlier, when she and Scottish biologist David Hepworth would create “living materials” in their respective homes. By combining tea, sugar, and a similar bacterial/yeast combination frequently used to ferment kombucha, Lee and Hepworth discovered that microbes, after ingesting sugar, create organic fibers that bind into pliable strips of cellulose.
Eerily, when molded into the form of a garment and left overnight to dry, the pieces fuse together together without any visible seams.
“You can actually have a dress growing in a vat of liquid,” Lee tells Popular Science. “I had never imagined a piece of clothing could be alive. And I have nothing to do with its creation. It’s growing for me.”
Lee also provided PopSci with her own recipe to make DIY cow-free “leather” at home:
200 milliliters of organic cider vinegar
200 grams granulated sugar
1 live kombucha culture
2 green tea bags
1. BREW THE LIQUID
Boil 2 liters of water, and steep the tea for 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags and add the sugar, stirring until it’s dissolved.
2. PREP THE CULTURE
Make sure the liquid is cooler than 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and then pour it into your container.
Add the cider vinegar and the kombucha culture. Cover the container with a cloth.
3. HARVEST THE MAT
While it grows, the mixture should be kept at room temperature. First, the culture will sink to the bottom. You’ll know fermentation has begun when bubbles and a transparent skin start to form on the surface.
Over time, the culture will rise to the surface and accumulate in a thick layer.
Once the mat reaches 2 centimeters in thickness (in three to four weeks), take it out of the container and gently wash it with cold, soapy water.
4. DRY THE MATERIAL OUT
Spread the sheet flat on a wooden surface. When it no longer feels wet, you can cut and sew it like any other fabric.
Note: This recipe will produce a piece of microbial leather as large as 7 x 6 inches, and it will take the shape of the container you put it in. To grow a larger or smaller sheet, adjust the proportions accordingly.
For more info Lee’s bio-engineered clothing, visit her site here.