Steal that hot new summer look (It’s bacteria)

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Bacterial secretions can stain your future wardrobe, and this would be an improvement.

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That’s because textiles usually get their hues from toxic chemicals, and the resulting sewage, laden with dyes, acids and formaldehyde, destroys rivers like those that surround the city. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Wastewater treatment, when it does, is just one of the energy-intensive (read: carbon emissions) processes that make fast fashion possible.

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The environmental crisis surrounding textiles has led to the emergence of several firms that seek to completely rethink dyeing. One such company colorifixjust got promoted thanks to a $22.6m (£18m) Series B round led by the Swedish fashion giant. H&M.

Colorifix stands out for its progress in using microbes (such as E. coli) to naturally apply dyes directly to fabrics. Its micro-organisms are engineered to produce specific colors and then brewed in vats like beer.

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An independent life cycle analysis (paid for by Colorifix) found that its dyes use at least 49% less water and 35% less electricity than conventional cotton dyeing processes, apparently reducing carbon emissions by 31%. This applies to natural fibers, but materials such as polyester or nylon have more advantages, which are usually made from petroleum and are more difficult to dye. “If you switch to synthetic materials, we save a lot more,” co-founder and chief scientist Jim Ajioka added in a conversation with TechCrunch.

So how can 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, mold and mildew and stuff will grow on the tiles. And you’ll see red bacteria [known as Serratia marcescens]. They bring out that color on your tile or grout,” he explained. “That’s what we do.”

But to get specific colors, Colorifix says it starts by identifying a specific color in nature, such as the green tint on parrot feathers. The company then uses online DNA databases to “identify the exact genes that lead to the production of this pigment.” From there, Colorifix builds DNA and inserts it into a small group of bacteria or yeast cells. During the day, they are reproduced millions of times in a Petri dish. “The resulting engineered microbe then acts like a tiny biological factory,” the startup said in a statement, eventually producing dyes that adhere to natural and synthetic materials.

The diagram shows the bacteria-based Colorifix staining process.

How Colorifix stains fabrics with bacteria.

When scaled down, the fashion industry consumes vast, almost unimaginable amounts of water. 2014 The World Bank The report showed that the industry consumes about 9 billion cubic meters of water per year – about five and a half times more than New York consumed in the same period. Compared to images of Dhaka’s ravaged rivers, perhaps the idea of ​​dipping T-shirts in bacterial soup might suddenly seem more appealing. But if you’re still confused by the thought of germs floating around with your clothes, you’re not alone. At first I did, and when I told Ajioka about it, he gave me a mouthful.

After the dyeing process, Ajioka explained, “Yes, you have to wash it. But, you know, you wash your clothes all the time. Think about the amount of bacteria currently on your T-shirt. It’s disgusting,” he said, addressing his comments specifically to my shirt. Then came the questions. “Think about it. How do you wash your clothes? What does laundry detergent do? It gets rid of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, oils and stuff, right? That’s what it’s made for, and what do you think microorganisms are made of? That’s why your clothes does not stink after you wash it,” he added.

Purity aside, Colorifix isn’t the only firm looking to develop cost-effective bacteria-produced dyes to fight pollution. He was joined by Paris-based drinking and Vienna Textile Laboratory. So far, none of these companies have mass-produced this idea, making bacteria-dyed clothing difficult to obtain, but not impossible.

In December 2021, Colorifix dyes were used for a limited edition production pangaia tracksuits in two soft shades, named Cocoon Blue and Midway Pink Geyser. It’s just that the old color was still available when this story was published, either for $170, hoodie or $140 trousers. Previously, Colorifix dyes were used to make Stella McCartney dresswhich was exhibited at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2018.

In other words, eco-hypebeasts: good luck.

Light blue Colorifix dyed hoodie designed by Pangaia.

Colorifix dyed hoodie designed by Pangaia.

In addition to microbes, other businesses seeking to crack resistant dyes include Alchemya Cambridge, UK company that claims to have developed a waterless dyeing process; Dye, a Dutch firm that dyes fabrics with pressurized carbon dioxide; and in New York ColorZenwhich produces a pre-treatment of cotton that appears to reduce water consumption and eliminate the need for salt.

Along with H&M, investors such as Sagana, Cambridge Enterprise and Regeneration.VC also took part in the Series B Colorifix round. The startup said it will triple its team size to around 120 employees with the new money as it prepares to move its technology “in supply chains of several leading players in the global fashion industry. The company declined to say more when asked how long I would have to wait to buy my own germ-dyed T-shirt.

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