Steal this hot new summer look (it’s bacteria) –


Bacterial secretions could paint your future wardrobe, and that would be an improvement.

That’s because textiles usually get their hues from toxic chemicals, and the resulting wastewater — laden with dyes, acids and formaldehyde — destroys rivers, such as those around dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Wastewater treatment, if it happens, is just one of the energy-intensive (read: carbon-spewing) processes that make fast fashion possible.

The environmental crises related to textiles have prompted several companies to reinvent dyeing from scratch. Such a company, colorifixjust got a boost through a $22.6 million (£18 million) Series B round led by the Swedish fashion giant H&M

Colorifix stands out for its advances in using microbes (such as E. coli) to naturally deposit dyes directly onto fabrics. The microorganisms are developed to produce specific colors and are then brewed in barrels like beer.

A third-party life cycle assessment (paid for by Colorifix) found that the dyes use at least 49% less water and 35% less electricity than conventional cotton dye processes, apparently reducing CO2 emissions by 31%. That’s for natural fibers, but the benefits are greater for materials like polyester or nylon, which are generally made from petroleum and are more difficult to dye. “If you go to synthetics, we’re going to save a lot more than this,” added co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Jim Ajioka in a conversation with

So, uh, how do you convince microbes to make dyes? I asked Ajioka and he told me to check my shower for something red.

‘In a place like England you get mold, mildew and all that on the tiles. And you will see red bacteria [known as Serratia marcescens]† They secrete that color on your tiles or your grout,” he explained. “That is what we do.”

But to produce specific colors, Colorifix says it starts with identifying a specific color in nature, such as a green hue on a parrot’s feather. The company then uses online DNA databases to “identify the exact genes that lead to the production of that pigment.” From there, Colorifix builds up the DNA and introduces it into a small group of bacteria or yeast cells. Within a day, they replicate millions of times on a petri dish. “The resulting engineered microbe then acts like a small biological factory,” the startup said in a statement, eventually producing dyes that bond to natural and synthetic materials.

How Colorifix colors textiles with bacteria.

If we zoom out, the fashion industry consumes an enormous, actually unimaginable amount of water. a 2014 World Bank report found that the industry goes through about 9 billion cubic meters of water per year – about five and a half times more than what New York City consumed in the same period. In addition to the images of Dhaka’s mangled rivers, the concept of dipping t-shirts in a bacterial soup may suddenly seem more palatable. But if you still find the idea of ​​microbes swimming with your clothes a little off-putting, you’re not alone. First I did, and when I said that to Ajioka, he gave me a mouthful.

After the dyeing process, Ajioka explained, “Yeah, you have to put it through the wash. But you know, you wash your clothes all the time. Think of the amount of bacteria that’s on your t-shirt right now. It’s disgusting,” he said, directing his comments specifically to my shirt. Then the questions came. “Think about it. How did you wash your clothes? What does detergent do? It removes proteins, carbohydrates and fats and oils and all, right? That’s what it was made for, and what do you think microorganisms are made of? That’s why your clothes don’t smell after you wash them,” he added.

Cleanliness aside, Colorifix isn’t the only company looking to develop cost-effective, bacteria-produced dyes to combat contamination. It is joined by Paris-based Pili and Vienna Textile Lab† So far, none of these companies has mass-produced the idea, making bacteria-dyed clothing difficult—but not impossible—to obtain.

In December 2021, Colorifix dyes were used to produce a limited edition of Pangaia tracksuits in two soft shades, called cocoon blue and midway geyser pink. Only the previous color was still available when this story was published, as a $170 hoodie or $140 pair of trousers† In the past, Colorifix dyes were used to Stella McCartney Dresswhich was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2018.

In other words, eco-hype beasts: success.

A light blue Colorifix dyed hoodie designed by Pangaia

Colorifix dyed hoodie designed by Pangaia

In addition to microbes, there are other companies looking to crack durable dyes, such as Alchemie, a Cambridge, UK-based company that claims to have developed a waterless dyeing process; DyeCoo, a Dutch company that dyes fabrics using pressurized CO2; and New York based ColorZenwhich makes a pre-dyeing treatment of cotton that apparently reduces water consumption and need for salts

Along with H&M, investors such as Sagana, Cambridge Enterprise and Regeneration.VC have also contributed to Colorifix’s Series B round. With the new money, the startup said it will triple the size of its team to about 120 employees as it prepares to bring its technology “into the supply chains of several leading players in the global fashion industry”. The company declined to share more when asked how long I should wait to buy a microbially dyed T-shirt of my own.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here