Colorifix makes dye with micro organism, raises $22.6M led by H&M

Bacterial secretions may dye your future wardrobe, and that’d be an enchancment.

That’s as a result of textiles often get their hues from poisonous chemical substances, and the ensuing wastewater — laden with dyes, acids and formaldehyde — destroys rivers, similar to these surrounding Dhaka, the capital metropolis of Bangladesh. Wastewater remedy, when it occurs, is simply one of many energy-intensive (learn: carbon-spewing) processes that make quick vogue potential.

The environmental crises linked to textiles have given rise to a number of companies that purpose to reimagine dyeing altogether. One such firm, Colorifix, simply obtained a lift by way of a $22.6 million (£18 million) Sequence B spherical, led by Swedish vogue large H&M.

Colorifix stands out for its progress in utilizing microbes (similar to E. coli) to naturally deposit dyes instantly onto materials. Its microorganisms are engineered to supply particular colours after which brewed in vats like beer.

A 3rd-party life cycle evaluation (paid for by Colorifix) discovered its dyes use a minimum of 49% much less water and 35% much less electrical energy than standard cotton dyeing processes, apparently slashing carbon emissions by 31%. That’s for pure fibers, however the upsides are larger for supplies like polyester or nylon, that are typically constituted of petroleum and trickier to dye. “In case you go to synthetics, we’re going to save lots of far more than this,” co-founder and chief scientific officer Jim Ajioka added in a name with TechCrunch. 

So, uh, how does one persuade microbes to make dyes? I requested Ajioka, and he instructed me to examine my bathe for one thing crimson.

“In a spot like England, you’re gonna get mildew, mildew and stuff rising on the tiles. And also you’ll see crimson micro organism [known as Serratia marcescens]. They secrete that colour onto your tiles or your grout” he defined. “That’s what we do.”

However to supply particular colours, Colorifix says it begins by figuring out a selected colour in nature, like a inexperienced hue discovered on a parrot’s feather. The corporate then faucets on-line DNA databases to “pinpoint the precise genes that result in the manufacturing of that pigment.” From there, Colorifix builds the DNA and inserts it right into a small group of micro organism or yeast cells. Inside a day they replicate tens of millions of occasions over on a petri dish. “The ensuing engineered microbe then acts as a tiny organic manufacturing facility,” the startup mentioned in a press release, in the end producing dyes that stick with pure and artificial supplies.

Diagram shows colorifix's bacteria-based dye process

How Colorifix dyes textiles with micro organism. Picture Credit: Colorifix

Zooming out, the style trade consumes an unlimited, mainly unimaginable quantity of water. A 2014 World Bank report discovered the trade goes by way of about 9 billion cubic meters of water per yr — roughly 5 and a half occasions greater than what New York City consumes in the identical interval. Subsequent to the photographs of Dhaka’s mutilated rivers, it’s potential the idea of dunking t-shirts right into a bacterial soup abruptly appears extra palatable. However in the event you nonetheless discover the thought of microbes swimming along with your garments a bit of off-putting, you’re not alone. I did at first, and after I mentioned as a lot to Ajioka, he gave me a mouthful.

Following the dyeing course of, Ajioka defined, “yeah, you must put it by way of the wash. However, , you wash your garments on a regular basis. Take into consideration the variety of micro organism which are in your t-shirt proper now. It’s disgusting,” he mentioned, directing his feedback at my shirt particularly. Then got here the questions. “Give it some thought. How do you wash your garments? What does laundry detergent do? It eliminates proteins, carbohydrates and, fat and oils and stuff, proper? That’s what it’s made to do, and what do you suppose microorganisms are made from? That’s why your garments don’t stink after you wash them,” he added.

Cleanliness apart, Colorifix just isn’t the one agency aiming to develop cost-effective, bacteria-produced dyes to curb air pollution. It’s joined by Paris-based Pili and Vienna Textile Lab. To date none of those firms have introduced the thought into mass manufacturing, making bacteria-dyed garments laborious — however not unimaginable — to come back by.

In December 2021, Colorifix dyes have been used to supply a restricted run of Pangaia tracksuits in two mushy hues, dubbed blue cocoon and halfway geyser pink. Simply the previous colour was nonetheless accessible when this story was revealed, as both a $170 hoodie or $140 pants. Earlier, Colorifix dyes have been used to make a Stella McCartney dress, which was exhibited at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2018.

In different phrases, eco hypebeasts: good luck.

A light blue, Colorifix-dyed hoodie designed by Pangaia

Colorifix-dyed hoodie designed by Pangaia. Picture Credit:Pangaia

Past microbes, different companies aiming to crack sustainable dyes embody Alchemie, a Cambridge, U.Ok.-based firm that claims to have developed a waterless dyeing course of; DyeCoo, a Dutch agency that dyes materials by way of pressurized CO2; and New York-based ColorZen, which makes a cotton pre-dyeing remedy that apparently slashes water use and eliminates the need for salts.

Together with H&M, traders similar to Sagana, Cambridge Enterprise and Regeneration.VC additionally chipped in on Colorifix’s Sequence B spherical. With the brand new money, the startup mentioned it’ll triple the dimensions of its group to about 120 staffers because it prepares to maneuver its tech “into the provision chains of a number of main gamers within the international vogue trade.” The corporate declined to share extra when requested how lengthy I’ll have to attend to purchase a microbially dyed tee of my very personal.

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