Biological dyeing firm Colorifix is set to launch industrial-scale trials in partnerships with fashion groups, including H&M, and textile manufacturers such as Switzerland’s Forster Rohner and India’s Arvind. The trials, to begin imminently, will be carried out using Colorifix’s biological dyes, which involve no hazardous chemicals and reduce water use by up to 90 per cent, at dye houses which are already supplying the brands.

Colorifix Chief Executive Orr Yarkoni said, “For the first pilots, I hope we have everything up and running by Christmas. We are starting on multiple sites simultaneously in Portugal, Italy and India.” If the trials are successful, Colorifix expects to commercially launch 5-ml batches of its microbe-based dyes in 2020, Yarkoni said. Yarkoni said the biggest challenges the company faced would be creating new shades on demand, maintaining standards and keeping costs down.

The H&M group has invested money in Colorifix. Other backers include Swiss investment firm Challenger 88 and Cambridge University. H&M spokeswoman Jeanette Mattsson said, “The H&M Group and Colorifix were in India this summer to, together with our production organisation, see how we can develop the technique so that it can be applied to our production. Given our size it takes more work to enable a scalable solution.”

Colorifix aims to address the environmental problems caused by conventional industrial dyeing which involves potentially hazardous chemicals, consumes vast amounts of energy and water, and produces contaminated wastewater. Colorifix harvests a colour gene in nature and inserts it into a bacterial cell, tricking it to fill up with the colour as well as duplicate. The cells then release their dye onto fabric.