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Kombucha Leather – The Biomaterial-Based Vegan Leather

Kombucha leather is a relatively new material gaining popularity due to its sustainability, ethical qualities, and versatility. If you are looking for a sustainable, vegan, and cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather, then kombucha leather is a good option to consider.

Kombucha Leather is a flexible bio-material alternative to leather made from cellulose nanofibrils spun by bacteria and yeast. This material grows thicker over time and can become paper-thin or leather-like. Kombucha leather is a relatively new material that costs about $10–$20 per square foot.

Quality sets Kombucha leather apart; its production process is as unique as the leather itself. Let’s see why it’s such a desirable material.

What Is Kombucha Leather?

Kombucha leather, or SCOBY leather, is a flexible and durable biomaterial made from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) that grows thicker with each batch of kombucha tea. 

Kombucha leather is made by feeding a SCOBY colony a mixture of tea, sugar, and vinegar. The mixture is then fermented over several days to create the gel-like film that is harvested and used as a leather alternative. Kombucha leather is an eco leather, which is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional leather, as it is biodegradable and does not involve using any animal products. Its production also typically involves low energy and water use compared to traditional leather tanning processes.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Kombucha Leather
  • Kombucha Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
  • In-depth Characteristics of Kombucha Leather
  • Pros of Kombucha Leather
  • Cons of Kombucha Leather
  • How Kombucha Leather is Made
  • Production Stats for Kombucha Leather
  • Cost of Kombucha Leather
  • When You Might Leathercraft with Kombucha Leather
  • Tips for Leathercrafting With Kombucha Leather
  • Examples of Goods Made from Kombucha Leather
  • My Personal Research on Kombucha Leather
  • Kombucha Leather Care & Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Kombucha Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Fermenting Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) - Kombucha Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Fermenting Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY)

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

  1. Kombucha leather is made from kombucha tea. This is a common misconception. Kombucha leather is not made from kombucha tea. It is made from the cellulose film produced by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) when it is fermented in a sweet tea solution.
  2. Kombucha leather is not vegan. This is also a common misconception. Kombucha leather is vegan leather, which does not contain any animal products. Rather, it is an animal-friendly alternative made from plant-based materials.
  3. Kombucha leather is not durable. This is another common misconception. Kombucha leather is actually quite durable. It is water-resistant and can withstand a fair amount of wear and tear.
  4. Kombucha leather is not breathable. This is also a misconception. Kombucha leather is breathable, just like natural leather. This makes it a comfortable material to wear.

History of Kombucha Leather

Kombucha leather, also known as SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) leather, is a relatively new biomaterial recently gaining popularity as a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional leather. The origins of kombucha as a fermented tea beverage can be traced back centuries to China. Still, using the SCOBY to create a leather-like material is a more recent development.

The exact origin of kombucha leather is unclear, but it is believed to have emerged as part of the DIY and sustainable fashion movements in the 2000s when a group of scientists at the University of California, Davis, were looking for a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional leather. Today, kombucha leather can be made at home or purchased commercially from many brands.

While the history of kombucha leather is relatively short, it is part of a broader movement towards more sustainable and eco-friendly materials in the fashion and leather industries. As demand for sustainable and cruelty-free alternatives to traditional leather increases, kombucha leather will likely play an increasingly important role.

Kombucha Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table

CharacteristicRating
Natural or SyntheticSynthetic
Surface TextureSmooth, slightly textured
Available Thickness (oz/mm)0.5–1 mm
Largest Workable Size1×1 m
Flexibility (1–10)8
Softness (1–10)8
Sewability (1–10)9
Durability (1–10)6
Ease of Maintenance (1–10)8
How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)5+ years
Available ColorsVaries
Waterproofness (1–10)5
Cost per Square Foot ($)$10–$20
Ease of Crafting (1–10)7
Rarity (Common or Exotic)Common
Annual Production VolumeCompound annual growth rate 17.5%
Biggest Exporting CountryU.S.
Biggest Importing CountryChina
Kombucha Leather Characteristics

In-depth Characteristics of Kombucha Leather

Natural or Synthetic

Kombucha leather is a synthetic leather material made from the cellulose film produced by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). It is not made from any animal products and is, therefore, vegan and cruelty-free.

Kombucha leather is a natural material formed by bacteria and yeast in the fermenting kombucha tea.

Surface Texture

The surface texture of kombucha leather is smooth and slightly textured. The texture can vary depending on the production method used. Some kombucha leather has a smooth, almost plastic-like texture, while others have a more natural, leather-like texture.

Available Thickness

The available thickness of kombucha leather varies depending on the production method used. Some kombucha leather is only a few millimeters thick, while others can be up to a centimeter thick.

Largest Workable Size 

The largest workable size of kombucha leather varies depending on the production method used. Some kombucha leather can be made in sheets several meters in size, while others are limited to smaller sizes.

Flexibility

Kombucha leather is a flexible material that can be easily bent and shaped. It is not as flexible as natural leather but more flexible than other synthetic materials.

Softness

Kombucha leather is a soft, comfortable material. It is not as soft as natural leather, but it is softer than some other synthetic materials.

Sewability

Kombucha leather can be sewn using a sewing machine or by hand. Sewing kombucha leather can be more challenging than sewing traditional fabrics or animal leather. As a plant-based material, it tends to be more delicate and less pliable. It may have a different texture, stiffness, or thickness, making it harder to work with.

Durability

Kombucha leather is a durable vegan leather that can withstand a fair amount of wear and tear. It may not be as long-lasting or resilient as traditional leather, especially in high-stress or high-friction situations.

Ease of Maintenance

Kombucha leather is a low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for material. It can be wiped clean with a damp cloth and requires no special treatments.

Lifespan with Daily Use

Kombucha leather can last for several years with daily use. The lifespan will vary depending on the care and maintenance that is given to the material.

Available Colors

Kombucha leather is available in a variety of colors. The colors can be natural, such as brown, off-white, cream, or beige. When dye is added, they can be more vibrant, such as red or blue.

Waterproofness

Kombucha leather is not completely waterproof. It can withstand some water, but it will eventually become saturated if exposed to water for an extended period.

Cost

The cost of kombucha leather varies depending on the material’s size, thickness, and color. It is generally more expensive than natural leather but less costly than some other synthetic materials.

Ease of Crafting

Kombucha leather is a relatively easy material to craft. It can be used to make various products, such as bags, shoes, and accessories.

Rarity (Common or Exotic)

Kombucha leather is a relatively new material and is not yet widely available. However, it is becoming more common and is likely to become more widely available in the future.

Pros of Kombucha Leather

Kombucha leather is a relatively new and evolving material. Its development allows for innovation, experimentation, and exploring new possibilities. It can be grown with zero waste in tubs shaped as garment pattern pieces.

Here are some other benefits associated with kombucha leather:  

  1. Vegan and cruelty-free: Kombucha leather is made from plant-based materials and contains no animal products. This makes it a good choice for vegans and those concerned about animal welfare.
  2. Sustainable and biodegradable: Kombucha leather is made from a renewable resource and can be composted at the end of its life. This makes it a more sustainable option than traditional leather, made from a non-renewable resource and often ends up in landfills.
  3. Breathable and comfortable to wear: Kombucha leather is breathable and allows the skin to breathe. This makes it a comfortable material to wear, especially in hot weather.
  4. Increasing demand and popularity: The demand for Kombucha leather is increasing due to its sustainable and vegan properties.
  5. Natural fiber source: Kombucha leather is a natural material formed by bacteria and yeast in the fermenting kombucha tea.

Cons of Kombucha Leather

While kombucha leather offers certain benefits, it may not be suitable for all use cases or meet everyone’s expectations in terms of durability and performance. Here are some cons of kombucha leather:

  1. New and not widely available: Kombucha leather is a relatively new material and is not yet widely available. This means that it can be more expensive than traditional leather and may be difficult to find.
  2. Durability: Kombucha leather is delicate. It softens in moisture and becomes less durable, while colder temperatures can also affect it, making it brittle.
  3. Not as soft: Kombucha leather is not as soft as traditional leather and may not be as comfortable to wear.
  4. May not be as long-lasting: Kombucha leather may not last as long as traditional leather and may need to be replaced more often.
  5. May not be as versatile: Kombucha leather may not be as versatile as traditional leather and may not be able to be used to make the same variety of products.

How Kombucha Leather is Made

According to research by Chen Li and Feng Xue published in the National Library of Medicine, one of the best biomaterials is bacterial cellulose (BC). There are several ways to produce BC, through kombucha fermentation, which has a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY). Although the exact production methods for kombucha leather can vary among manufacturers and crafters. Here are the general steps involved in producing kombucha leather:

  1. Prepare the kombucha culture: The first step in making Kombucha leather is to prepare the Kombucha culture, also known as SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). You can buy a SCOBY from a health food store or online or grow your own by fermenting sweet tea with a bottle of store-bought Kombucha.
  2. Prepare the sweet tea: Brew a batch of sweet tea. The tea should be sweetened with sugar, as the SCOBY feeds on the sugar to produce cellulose. The ratio is typically 1 cup of sugar for every gallon of tea.
  3. Add the SCOBY to the sweet tea: Once the sweet tea has cooled to room temperature, add the SCOBY. It’s important that the tea is not too hot, as high temperatures can kill the SCOBY.
  4. Ferment the Tea: Cover the container with a cloth or coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band. This allows air to flow in and out of the container while keeping out dust and insects. Leave the container at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and let the tea ferment for 1-2 weeks.
  5. Harvest the SCOBY: After fermentation, a layer of cellulose will form the surface of the tea. This is Kombucha leather. This layer will be carefully removed from the container. It should be thick and rubbery.
  6. Rinse and dry the kombucha leather: Rinse the Kombucha leather under cold water to remove residual tea. Then, lay it flat on a clean surface and let it dry. This can take several days to a week, depending on the thickness of the leather and the humidity in your area.
  7. Condition the kombucha leather: Once the Kombucha leather is dry, it will become hard and brittle. To make it flexible again, you need to condition it. This can be done by rubbing it with a natural oil like coconut or olive oil.
  8. Use the Kombucha Leather: Now that your Kombucha leather is prepared, it can be used in various ways. It can be cut, sewn, and molded just like animal leather. It can be used to make clothing, accessories, and even furniture.

Please note that this is a simplified version of the process, and actual production may require more specific conditions and steps.

Check out this interesting video about growing and harvesting kombucha leather at home.

Production Statistics of Kombucha Leather

  1. Volume per year: The production of kombucha leather is still in its early stages, and there is no definitive data on the production volume per year. However, the global market for kombucha leather is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.5% from 2022 to 2028.
  1. Key countries where it is produced: The key countries where kombucha leather is produced are the U.S., China, and South Korea. The U.S. is the largest producer of kombucha leather, followed by China and South Korea.
  1. Biggest exporting country: The biggest exporting country of kombucha leather is the U.S. The U.S. exports kombucha leather to several countries, including China, South Korea, and Japan.
  1. Biggest importing country: China is the biggest importer of kombucha leather. It imports kombucha leather from many countries, including the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.

Cost of Kombucha Leather

The cost of Kombucha leather can vary depending on several factors, such as the production process, the batch size, and the supplier. Kombucha leather is a relatively new and niche product, which may be more expensive than traditional leather.

  1. Square foot: The cost of kombucha leather per square foot ranges from $10–$20 on average
  1. ½ Hide: The average cost ranges from $50–$100.
  1. Full Hide: The cost of a full hide ranges from $100 to $200 on average

When You Might Leathercraft With Kombucha Leather

You can use kombucha leather for a variety of leathercraft projects, including:

  1. Bags: Kombucha leather is a good choice for bags because it is durable and water-resistant.
  2. Shoes: Kombucha leather is a good shoe material because it is comfortable and breathable.
  3. Accessories: Kombucha leather is great for wallets, belts, and jewelry accessories.
  4. Home décor: Kombucha leather can be used to make various home décor items, such as coasters, placemats, and lampshades.
  5. Fashion items: Kombucha leather can be used to make various fashion items, such as jackets, skirts, and dresses.

Tips for Leathercrafting With Kombucha Leather

Crafting with kombucha leather can be a fun and creative process. With a few tricks and tips, you can enhance your crafting with kombucha leather and create unique projects with this sustainable material. Here are some tips to consider when crafting with kombucha leather:

  1. Preparation: Before starting your project, ensure your Kombucha leather is clean and free of mold or other imperfections. If necessary, you can gently clean it with a damp cloth or sponge.
  2. Cutting: Kombucha leather can be cut with a sharp knife or scissors. Use a cutting board to protect your work surface and ensure clean, straight cuts.
  3. Molding: Kombucha leather can be molded using wet or dry techniques. To wet mold, simply soak the leather in warm water for a few minutes, then shape it by hand or using a mold. To dry mold, shape the leather using a pattern or mold, then let it air dry.
  4. Dyeing and Finishing: Kombucha leather can be dyed using natural or synthetic dyes. Before dying, make sure the leather is thoroughly dry and free of any debris. After dyeing, you can finish the leather with a protective coating or wax.
  1. Sewing: Kombucha leather can be sewn using a leather sewing machine or by hand with a leather needle and waxed thread. When hand sewing, use a thimble to protect your fingers.
  2. Experiment: Kombucha leather has a unique texture and appearance that can be used to create interesting and unconventional leathercraft projects. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different.

Some Examples of Items Made From Kombucha Leather

Its versatility and sustainable qualities make kombucha leather appealing to designers, crafters, and those seeking alternatives to traditional leather. Some examples of items that can be made from kombucha leather can include:

  1. Bags: Kombucha leather is a good choice for bags because it is durable and water-resistant. Some examples of bags made from kombucha leather include tote bags, backpacks, and purses.
  2. Shoes: Kombucha leather is a good shoe choice because it is comfortable and breathable. Some examples of shoes made from kombucha leather include sneakers, boots, and sandals.
  3. Accessories: Kombucha leather is a good choice for wallets, belts, and jewelry accessories. Some examples of accessories made from kombucha leather include wallets, belts, and bracelets.
  4. Home décor: Kombucha leather can be used to make various home décor items, such as coasters, placemats, and lampshades.
  5. Fashion items: Kombucha leather can be used to make fashion items, such as jackets, skirts, and dresses.

My Personal Research on Kombucha Leather

As an experienced leatherworker, I was drawn to the unique properties of Kombucha leather. This led me to conduct a hands-on experiment with the material, focusing on its texture, durability, workability, and longevity.

Experiment Set-Up and Procedure

I selected a few samples of Kombucha leather of different thicknesses and colors. I started by evaluating the texture and weight, two attributes that significantly influence the aesthetic and feel of a finished product. The Kombucha leather had a smooth, slightly textured surface, earning an 8 out of 10 for tactile appeal. Its weight was lighter than traditional leather, which scored it a 7.

Next, I evaluated its workability by cutting, sewing, and molding the material into a small pouch. The ease of cutting and handling the Kombucha leather was surprising, resulting in a high score of 9.

Durability Testing

Durability testing was conducted in two phases. First, I conducted a tear-resistance test by applying pressure to small swatches of the material until they started to tear. Kombucha leather proved resilient with a decent score of 8.

Next, I conducted a heat resistance experiment to assess its high-temperature tolerance. The Kombucha leather samples were exposed to a heat source for a few hours. The material retained its structural integrity and showed no signs of heat damage, earning a heat resistance score of 6.

Longevity and Maintenance Assessment

For a real-world longevity and maintenance assessment, I used the Kombucha leather pouch I’d made in my daily routines over several weeks. The pouch maintained its look with minimal care, merely needing a quick wipe-down for cleaning. This ease of maintenance was a significant advantage, earning a score of 7. As for longevity, the pouch withstood daily wear and tear quite well, scoring 7.

Expert Opinions

I also discussed the usage and perception of Kombucha leather with fellow leathercrafters, gaining a broader perspective. Their opinions echoed my findings in many ways and offered further insights. They appreciated the material’s consistency, durability, and eco-friendliness, while some preferred traditional leathers.

Infographic: A Visual Guide to Kombucha Leather

To summarize my findings, I’ve designed an infographic that provides a concise overview of kombucha leather, including its definition, information about the leather, use cases, and pros and cons. I hope it serves as a quick reference for anyone interested in this innovative material.

Kombucha Leather Care and Maintenance

How To Clean Kombucha Leather

Cleaning kombucha leather requires a gentle approach to avoid damage, and it’s best to test any cleaning method or product on an inconspicuous area of the material before applying it to a larger area. Here are some general guidelines for cleaning kombucha leather:

  1. Spot clean: If your kombucha leather gets dirty, you can spot-clean it with a damp cloth. Be sure to blot the area, not rub it, to avoid damaging the material.
  2. Wipe down: If your kombucha leather gets dusty, you can wipe it down with a damp cloth. Be sure to wring out the cloth, so it is not dripping wet.
  3. Clean with soap and water: If your kombucha leather gets really dirty, you can clean it with soap and water. Use a mild soap and rinse the area thoroughly with clean water.
  4. Dry: Once you have cleaned your kombucha leather, thoroughly dry it. To speed up the drying process, you can use a hair dryer on a cool setting.
  5. Condition: Once your kombucha leather is dry, you can condition it with a leather conditioner. This will help to keep the material soft and supple.
  6. Avoid harsh chemicals: Harsh chemicals can damage kombucha leather, so it is important to avoid using them.
  7. Avoid using heat: Heat can also damage kombucha leather, so it is important to avoid using it.
  8. Be gentle: Kombucha leather is a delicate material, so it is important to be gentle when cleaning it.

How To Condition Kombucha Leather

Conditioning Kombucha leather is important to maintain its flexibility and prevent cracking. One suggestion is to use a natural oil, such as coconut or almond oil, and gently rub it onto the surface of the leather using a soft cloth. Avoid using too much oil, as it can cause the material to become greasy. 

Another suggestion is to use a vinegar and water solution mixed in a 1:1 ratio and gently wipe down the surface of the leather using a soft cloth. This can help to remove any excess dirt or grime and restore the leather’s natural shine. Allowing the leather to dry completely is important before using or storing it. It is also important to note that conditioning should be done periodically but not too frequently, as it can cause the material to become saturated and lose its natural texture and shape.

How To Store Kombucha Leather

Properly storing kombucha leather can help maintain its quality and increase its lifespan. Here are some tips for storing kombucha leather:

  1. Keep it in a cool, dry place: Kombucha leather is sensitive to heat and moisture, so it is important to keep it in a cool, dry place.
  2. Avoid direct sunlight: Direct sunlight can damage kombucha leather, so keeping it out of direct sunlight is best.
  3. Store it flat: Kombucha leather can be stored flat or rolled up. If you store it flat, be sure to put a piece of cloth or paper between the layers to prevent them from sticking together.
  4. Avoid storing it with other materials: Kombucha leather can be damaged by other materials, so it is important to avoid storing it with other materials.
  5. Check it periodically: Periodically check your kombucha leather to ensure it is in good condition. If you notice any signs of damage, such as cracks or tears, be sure to repair them immediately.
  6. Use a storage container: If you are storing your kombucha leather for an extended period, it is a good idea to use a storage container. This will help protect the material from dust and other contaminants.
  7. Label the container: Be sure to label the container with the date you stored the kombucha leather. This will help you to keep track of how long it has been stored and when it needs to be replaced.
  8. Replace it every few years: Kombucha leather will eventually break down, so replacing it every few years is often necessary. This will help ensure that your kombucha leather looks its best and lasts for years to come.

Helpful Insights on Kombucha Leather

Kombucha leather is a sustainable faux leather material that is becoming increasingly popular as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional leather. Some of its key advantages include its flexibility, durability, and resistance to water and stains. However, it is important to note that the process of growing and harvesting Kombucha leather can be delicate, time-consuming, and require specialized equipment and expertise. 

Additionally, Kombucha leather is a relatively new material, and ongoing research is needed to understand its properties and potential applications fully. Nonetheless, the increasing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly materials is expected to drive continued interest and innovation in developing Kombucha leather.

How long does kombucha leather last?

The lifespan of kombucha leather can differ depending on how it is made and cared for. In general, kombucha leather can last for several months to a year. However, it is important to note that kombucha leather is a natural material that will eventually break down.

How do you waterproof kombucha leather?

Waterproofing Kombucha leather can be challenging, as the material is naturally porous and prone to water damage. However, several methods can make Kombucha leather more resistant to water. One common method is to apply a natural wax, such as beeswax or carnauba wax, to the surface of the leather using a soft cloth. This can help to create a waterproof barrier that repels water.

Another method is to use a specialized waterproof spray, such as a silicone-based spray, which can help create a protective coating on the leather’s surface. However, some waterproofing methods may alter the appearance or texture of Kombucha leather and may also affect its biodegradability. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the chosen method and its potential impact on the material before proceeding.

What is kombucha leather?

Kombucha leather is a vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainable alternative to traditional leather. It is made by fermenting tea with sugar and bacteria. The bacteria produce cellulose, which is a natural material that can be used to make many different products.

Is kombucha leather durable?

Kombucha leather can be durable, but it depends on several factors, such as how well it is cared for and its specific manufacturing process. Some studies have shown that the tensile strength of kombucha leather can vary depending on the sugar concentration used during the growth process. 

Additionally, Kombucha leather is not waterproof and can be prone to breaking down over time if it is exposed to moisture or certain environmental conditions. However, with proper care and maintenance, Kombucha leather can be a sustainable and durable alternative to traditional leather.

What are the disadvantages of kombucha leather?

  1. Kombucha leather is a relatively new material and is not yet widely available. This means that it can be more expensive than traditional leather.
  2. Kombucha leather is less durable than traditional leather and more susceptible to UV rays damage.
  3. Kombucha leather can be difficult to care for. It is important to store it in a cool, dry place and avoid exposing it to direct sunlight. It is also important to clean it with a damp cloth and regularly condition it.

Is kombucha leather waterproof?

Kombucha leather is not waterproof by itself. However, it can be made more water-resistant by applying a sealant or coating can make it more water-resistant.

Key Takeaways

  1. Kombucha leather is a vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainable alternative to traditional leather. It is made by fermenting tea with sugar and bacteria. The bacteria produce cellulose, which is a natural material that can be used to make various products.
  2. Kombucha leather is made by creating a pellicle, or a thin film, of bacteria and yeast on the surface of sweetened tea. The pellicle is then removed and dried, resulting in a material that has a leather-like appearance and feel. Kombucha leather can be dyed and molded to create products, including bags, shoes, accessories, and home décor.
  3. If you want a sustainable, vegan, and cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather, kombucha leather is a good option. However, it is important to be aware of the disadvantages of the material before making a decision.

In Closing

Kombucha leather is a sustainable and biodegradable material made from the cellulose produced during the fermentation of kombucha tea. The material is still being researched and developed but has potential for use in fashion and other industries. 

Kombucha leather is not naturally waterproof but can be made water-resistant with treatments that may affect its appearance and biodegradability. Overall, Kombucha leather is a promising alternative to traditional leather types, but its durability and properties may differ depending on the manufacturing process and care.