Researchers from Auburn University at Montgomery have developed a new alternative for leather using the byproducts of fermented green tea.
Auburn University researcher Young-A Lee and her research team – which includes her former doctoral student Changhyun Nam – believe their biodegradable material alternative could help remedy some of the ill effects caused by the footwear industry.
Dress shoes are made from a variety of rubber, leather and synthetic materials that take decades to decompose. Their manufacturing process too affects workers’ health and causes environmental deterioration.
Lee was inspired by the cradle-to-cradle design framework, a principle focused on the renewability of products.
Her curiosity about turning food waste into fashion was what sparked this research.
Lee found that a green tea-based cellulosic material behaved the same way as leather, without having any of the same negative environmental side effects.
Men’s leather dress shoes are made up of the upper and inner shells, the insole, the midsole and the outsole. Leather is commonly used because of its durable, flexible and stylish qualities.
When the researchers combined an outer shell of cellulosic material with a hemp-based fabric on the inside, then used recycled denim to bond the two together, the result was an Eco-friendly product comparable to the style and durability of a leather dress shoe.
Once a similar-looking shoe prototype was designed, Lee’s research team tested its thickness, weight, air permeability, thermal comfort, tensile strength and wettability as compared to commercially available leather.
They found that the sustainable model could be used as the entire shell of the shoe due to its lightness and airflow capability coupled with the durable nature of the fermented green tea-based material.
In terms of thermal comfort, the sustainable model provided similar or even better results than the leather model.
As for the wearer’s comfort and performance ability, the sustainable model provided more benefits than the leather model.
The researchers also found that the two shoes had similar levels of break force and flexibility, implying the green shoe could last for the same amount of time like its leather counterpart.
It can also withstand the same amount of pressure like a leather shoe before being damaged.
Image and content: Auburn University at Montgomery