Image of Fermentation and dyeing

Fashion and the circular economy: engineering biology for textile dyeing

The textile industry is a global environmental disaster. Everything from the production of both natural and synthetic fibres to making finished garments carry a negative environmental impact.

Fabric dyeing is a massive contributor to this problem through inefficient use of water and energy. Many of the chemicals used in the process are highly toxic and cannot be retrieved from factory effluent pumped into rivers and canals.

On 17 March 2018, for the Cambridge Science Festival, the Intellectual Forum hosted Professor Jim Ajioka to explore the current dyeing process and how, through engagement with Fashion houses, he hopes to bring the dyeing industry into the 21st Century. By engineering biology to maximize value throughout the dyeing process and circularize what is now a wasteful and toxic linear economy, he explored how processes using engineered microbes to combine the production, deposition, and fixation, of pigments onto fibres and fabrics, hold the promise of virtually eliminating the use of toxic chemicals with a big reduction in water and energy use.