Dyeing fabric using current methods is highly toxic, wasteful, and harmful to the environment and to people. Toxic chemicals in dye lost as effluent is leaked into the environment, killing aquatic life, contaminating soil and poisoning the water supply. Despite being such an environmental and social hazard, new sustainable methods are few and far between.
Colorifix, a recently established start-up company, has designed an innovative, eco-friendly method of dyeing fabric. Using a synthetic biology technique that uses micro-organisms to produce, deposit, and fix dyes directly onto fabrics. The technology works most effectively on natural fibres and, although the colour palette is limited, it is not confined to indigo dyes (unlike competing technologies). Pigment production comes from gene modification in micro-organisms and then the dye is transferred directly onto the fabric. This process uses less water, less energy, eliminates hazardous chemicals and reduces waste dye in effluent to <1%.
The i-Team explored how Colorifix could be up-scaled and which markets would be the most appropriate for field testing. The team looked at specific regions: the Indian, African, Chinese, Italian, and UK markets. In the global market, customers were segmented into different categories: artisans (small to medium scale), textile mills (medium to large scale), fashion labels (medium scale), and NGOs or eco-friendly businesses (medium scale).
1) Emerging economies are most affected by the dyeing industries, particularly India. The Indian market primarily uses textile mills and as a result suffers major problems, namely pollution from the dyeing process, discharge of wastes into bodies of water, and damage to aquatic life and farmland. The team recommended the South Indian textile mills as a point of entry after looking at the Namami Gange Programme.
2) The African market is primarily artisans, and major problems are energy and water consumption. GMO regulations create a barrier to entry, but this is only present in 5 African countries. There are existing NGOs promoting eco-friendly textile production, such as “Proudly Made in Africa”, and so this was recommended as the point of entry.
3) The Chinese market is composed of dyeing companies, where the main issues are energy consumption and pollution caused by the current dyeing process. There is a need for sustainable but profitable clothing, as well as cheap technology to dye natural fibres. The recommended point of entry was Eastern region dyeing companies such as in Jiangsu.
4) The Italian market is confronted by environmental sustainability issues as well as a need for innovation, as their major customers are dye houses supplying to fashion labels. There is a demand for sustainable clothing from fashion designers, so this is one point of entry, and dye houses seem willing to change existing dyeing processes, which also make them a viable point of entry.
5) The UK market’s major customers are dye houses and textile companies, issues faced include the demand and supply of eco-friendly dyes, costs and productivity, and energy consumption and waste processing. The recommended point of entry is Northern dye houses, as they seem to be pro-active about alternative eco-friendly dyeing solutions, and there is limited commercial viability of current eco-friendly options.
From their findings, the i-Team recommended to the nventor
- an expansion of the colour palette
- scaling up production
- OEKO certification (process/product)
The team clarified that there are regulatory, governmental, safety, cultural, economic and environmental aspects that must be investigated to establish the feasibility of using a synthetic biology approach in countries with strict GMO regulations. The team recommended market research targeted directly at consumers to identify desirables within their chosen demographic.
Colorifix have won several awards since participating in Development i-Teams and are part of the CGE Cultivator. The team won the Rainbow Seed Fund’s Synthetic Biology “Breaking New Ground” award, and placed at the Bio-start competition in July 2017.
i-Teams website link: