‘Growing’ colours to reduce fashion industry’s environmental impact

The Team

Founder Iris Redinger and colleagues at start-up Material Futures

The Challenge

Reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry – estimated to account for roughly 20 percent of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide – by developing all-natural dyes

The Solution

Using micro-organisms to ‘grow’ colour

The Outcome

With her solution proven at the lab scale, Redinger is now raising funds to help accelerate her company’s go-to market strategy

Breakthrough approach ‘grows’ colour to produce natural colours for the textile industry, removing environmental hazards traditionally associated with the sector

Micro-organisms provide all-natural dyeing solution

The fashion industry has an environmental problem and Iris Redinger is working to address a significant part of the challenge: clothing dyes. Her innovative solution uses micro-organisms that naturally produce colour. 

Redinger, a Mitacs intern who earned her Bachelor of Architecture at Waterloo University last year, is advancing her breakthrough approach through her start-up company, Waterloo-based Material Futures

“I’ve always had a passion for the fashion industry,” says Redinger, who learned to sew at a young age and, as a co-op student during her first year studying architecture, had the opportunity to work with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen on the renowned Dome Dress, shown at Paris Fashion Week in 2017 and now part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s collection. 

Harmful processes 

“Dyeing clothing is one of the biggest environmental challenges in the fashion industry,” Redinger explains. “Historically, we used plants to colour textiles, but now we use chemical processes derived from harmful petroleum products. With recent developments in synthetic biology, now is the right time to return to nature as a source for colour. 

“Many countries that dye textiles don’t do a good job of treating their wastewater, which is problematic because people often drink, bathe and swim in this water,” Redinger says. “One solution is to develop dyestuffs that don’t require water to be used in the colouring process, but that approach will require costly new equipment, new factories and new infrastructure. 

Natural solution 

To pursue her idea, Redinger founded Material Futures in 2018, hiring researchers to help develop her method, which is patent pending. After identifying microorganisms that naturally produce colour, she applies genetic engineering techniques to make it their primary function. The end products are fully biodegradable colourants that can be easily substituted into existing manufacturing processes and are available in a full range of colours. 

“By applying green chemistry and natural elements, we’re working to create a more environmentally conscious and sustainable fashion world,” she adds. 

Redinger is now focused on growing her solution, which has been proven at the lab scale. The technology has gone through rigorous performance and feasibility testing to ensure the naturally dyed textiles stand up to repeated washing without fading and meet other thresholds for industry-grade fabrics. 

She is also raising funds to help accelerate her company’s go-to market strategy and investigating the natural dye’s application to cosmetics, food colourants, plastics and other industries. 

To learn more about Material Futures, listen to The Edge, a podcast by Mitacs. 

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

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