tea shirt

Fashion designers and scientists have developed a new fabric that is grown in vats of tea.

Fabric grown in vats of tea is being used to produce a new type of material for the fashion industry.  It is the authentic “tea shirt” – an item from a range of clothing made from Britain’s favourite beverage.


Fashion designers and scientists have developed a new fabric that is grown in vats of tea.

The material, which has a leather-like texture but is extremely lightweight, has already been used to make shirts, jackets, dresses and even shoes.

Scientists at Imperial College London have been working with fashion designers from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, also in the capital, to create the fabric, for use in the fashion industry.

They believe such innovative, sustainable textiles will become increasingly important for the clothing industry as pressure on the resources needed to create traditional fabrics such as cotton, wool and leather increases.

The new fabric is grown in a soup of green tea, sugar and other nutrients, over the course of several days. Bacteria added to the solution produce long filaments of cellulose that clump together to form thin mats of fabric that float on the top of the mixture.

Once dried, this becomes see-through and similar in appearance to papyrus. However, it can be treated, dyed and moulded to produce different textures and effects.

Professor Paul Freemont, a molecular biologist at Imperial College London said: “The bacteria naturally produce these fibres of cellulose and they are laid down into a mat that floats to the surface.

“The mixture produces quite an uneven and random fabric though, so we are working on ways of making it more consistent.

“Once it is dried, it feels just like leather and is really tough. You can’t tear it apart.”

The green tea mixture helps encourage the bacteria, known as Acetobacter, to produce the cellulose filaments.

Over a period of two or three weeks, these fibres meld together to form thin, wet sheets of cellulose that toughen as they are dried out.

The project is being led by Suzanne Lee, a senior research fellow and designer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, who has already used the material to make clothes.

Miss Lee said the idea to create the fabric came to her after a chance meeting with a biologist several years ago.

She said: “He explained that microorganisms can be used to spin cellulose and that in turn could form a textile-like material.

“I realised that this answered many of the pressing issues associated with contemporary throwaway fashion such as sustainability and end of life disposal.”

Professor Freemont and Professor Alexander Bismarck, a materials expert at Imperial College, are now working on using synthetic biology techniques by introducing the genes needed to produce these cellulose sheets into other bacteria.

They hope that they will be able to increase the efficiency and perhaps introduce new properties to the material.

He said there were still some challenges that needed to be overcome before the new fabric could start appearing on the high street.

Professor Freemont added: “What Suzanne is trying to achieve has really caught our imaginations. The material she is using to make her clothes is incredible and very different from the kind of cellulose sheets produced by bacteria.

“It doesn’t have a very nice smell at the moment though because it is produced by bacteria, but we are trying to overcome that. There is still some way to go before it can be used as a standard item in the high street.

“These are projects we need to think about because of the impending resource shortages we face and one thing we are not short on is bacteria.”

Via Telegraph