Person of Interest: Luis Quijano March/April 2018

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AGE: 19 | TITLE: Liberty University
senior fashion design student

You are in the middle of some research that almost sounds a little impossible! How did you become interested in the concept of growing your own clothes?
I originally needed a topic for my public speaking competitions with LU’s Forensics Team and had encountered a Ted Talk by Suzanne Lee called, “How to grow your own clothes.” Then, I decided to use the topic of bacterial cellulose (vegan leather) as my research focus in the Honors program. Through this experience of learning how to grow my own vegan leather, Sacha Laurin, owner of Kombucha Couture, guided me through the various proportions and I was able to begin to grow it. I started applying for research grants. Now, I have completed my Honor’s thesis, while I continue to learn about the process.

How does the process work?
You need water, sugar, green tea, kombucha tea and a container. Boil the water so it no longer contains chlorine or fluoride or use distilled water. Add the sugar, and mix it into the water letting it dissolve. Next, steep the green tea for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, letting the combination cool to room temperature within your container. After the batch is at room temperature, you would insert the kombucha tea, allowing the mixture to grow three to four weeks. Around that time, you will see a thick layer on the surface of the liquid that would then be dried into your vegan leather.

The fabric is described as “sustainable.” What did you learn about the fashion industry that made you want to study this?
Unbeknown to most, the fashion industry is among the most polluting industries in the world, second only to oil. The industry perpetuates an enormous amount of waste environmentally, chemically, and textile-based. The process of growing bacterial cellulose removes most of the steps needed in today’s industry—from growing the resources, making the fibers, converting fibers to thread, and using threads to create the final fabric.

You even spent some time in Australia, right?
I was awarded the Provost’s Award for Research Excellence grant through Liberty University and that allowed me to go to Brisbane, Australia from May to August 2017. I partnered with the Queensland University of Technology and the State Library of Queensland to explore alternative sugars for the growing process of bacterial cellulose (tea leather).

What’s next for you in your journey?
Currently, I am working on designing a collection of sustainable garments for LU’s annual FACS fashion show in April. After I graduate with my B.S. in Fashion Design in May, I will be continuing research with bacterial cellulose, and hopefully begin pursuing my Ph.D. at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. I am a Fulbright semifinalist for Australia to pursue research in bacterial cellulose. Semifinalists will be notified about finalist notifications in March and April.

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