Auburn researcher turns green tea into leather substitute


In Alabama, a researcher at Auburn University has used green tea to produce a leather alternative.

Funded by an EPA grant, Young-A Lee and her former student and current Iowa State University professor Changhyun Nam began looking for alternative materials to replace leather.

“Our research team was looking for sustainability design practices starting from fiber, to product design and development to the end—consumers. We started to explore alternative materials for leather and synthetic textiles, focusing more on natural fibers,” Lee tells “At the same time, we also searched whether there is any way for us to use byproducts from various industries to generate new materials for apparel-related products.”

Lee eventually found a green tea-based cellulosic material that had similar properties to leather. Layering the new material with other sustainable materials helped make the alternative leather more resilient. So far, Lee has made a prototype of a men’s leather dress shoe.