Oenophiles rejoice! A collaboration between Australian scientists and artists has produced the ultimate wine lover's accessory - wine you can wear.
Using biological fermentation, the team have been able to create a seamless fabric that needs no stitching or weaving. Acetobacter, a genus of (harmless) bacteria that turn alcohol into vinegar, are added to vats of Australia's surplus wine. Whilst digesting the alcohol the bacteria produce long strands of cellulose, synonymous with plant based cotton, in the form of a floating sludge. This sludge is harvested, then spread out on inflatable models and left to dry into futuristic fashions.
Sounds too good to be true? It's not, Donna Franklin and Gary Cass have already created the first clothes and sheets of material, named MicroBe. They've even been able to produce different colours from using red wine (red), white wine (clear) and beer (amber translucent). The material fits straight to the body and is translucent, creating a stunning look and bring a new meaning to the term 'figure hugging.'
However there is a catch, the material currently needs to be kept slightly damp (ok for the sweaty summer then!), it's not that flexible and there's that morning after smell of stale alcohol. The team are working hard to overcome these issues and are already working with different chemicals to take the next step from interesting lab project to a fully workable, fully wearable product.
Apart from being an unusual craft project, there's serious reasons as to why Franklin and Cass are trying to create this fabric. Wine fabric is much more ecologically friendly than its traditional counterparts; material production is oil, energy and pesticide intensive - in a world of peak oil, MicroBe might just be an answer, whilst keeping the world a healthier, less polluted place. MicroBe takes the pressure of our over crammed planet too - unlike other materials it's completely biodegradable and safe to dispose of.
Cotton (and other materials) are highly processed products, requiring massive amounts of human labour: the current fad for cheap, throw-away fashions means the material trade is at the forefront of labour abuses including illegal overtime, sweat shops and child workers - MicroBe requires little labour as most of the work is done my the bacteria in sealed vats. This low labour input also reduces the cost of the fabric and once the issues over flexibility, dampness and smell have been ironed out, this could provide a much needed boost to Australia's manufacturing and export trades and make this a direct competitor to the over cheap, poorly made, non-environmentally, unfair materials that currently flood the market.
It's not just an ecological battle that Cass and Franklin are trying to answer - the world of high performance sportswear is constantly demanding seamless garments to reduce drag and improve the performance of athletes. With MicroBe, there's every possibility that in the future we will see seamless clothes made to fit the athlete exactly.
How long we have to wait for the improvements, we don't know, but some hope should be taken from other projects using milk to make clothes - although the process is slightly different, German fashion designer and microbiologist Anke Domaske has already produced one full season on women's clothes.
In the meantime we'll just have to raise a glass to the team and their unique idea.