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Fashion made out of tea


British designer Suzanne Lee is developing a new kind of fabric - grown in a vat of tea. She hopes this bacterial cellulose might be an all-natural textile of the future, for use in more than fashion.

It's an altogether different type of t-shirt.

A garment actually made from tea.

Designer Suzanne Lee is developing a new fabric that she's growing in vats of tea in her studio.

Suzanne Lee said, "This is the one which has been growing for a couple of weeks now and this one's now ready to harvest."

This "fabric" is actually a mat of bacterial cellulose - a by-product made while fermenting green tea.

To a mixture of green tea and a sugar solution - she adds a mother culture.

Suzanne Lee said, "This is just going to sit in the liquid."

And initially sets the temperature at 24 degrees centigrade to get the bacteria growing.

A few weeks later the cellulose mat can be removed from the vat, washed and left out to dry.

Suzanne calls the dried fabric vegetable leather - and it can be moulded, dyed, or sewn together to make a garment.

But bacterial cellulose clothes aren't quite ready to be worn yet.

Suzanne Lee said, "If I just created a garment and didn't do any treatment to it and you went out in the rain, the garment would immediately start absorbing water and it would hold that water, it wouldn't run off it."

Material scientist Raymond Oliver is also looking at future uses of bacterial cellulose.

He says the world might be facing a shortage of resources, but we're certainly not lacking in bacteria.

Raymond Oliver said, "We have this massive use of synthetic polymers, roundabout 250 million tonnes just now per annum, it's going to increase over the century to a billion tonnes and that will take up a huge amount of the available oil resource. We as a society have to decide, do we want oil for fuel and energy, or do we want it for products."

Raymond and Suzanne say bacterial cellulose could be used in many ways, not just fashion.

Suzanne Lee said, "Something which started off as, which I only imagined as being created using the form of clothing, could now begin to be imagined for other products. So that might be anything really, from a bowl, to a chair, to a car, to architecture."

Suzanne believes the development of bacterial cellulose will be a life's work for her and scientists.

So far from just creating more sustainable fashion - she may be looking into the fabric of the future.

(CNTV June 16, 2011)

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