Colorifix CEO Orr Yarkoni is turning the fashion industry green


11:00 a.m. 26 February 2022

Colorifix is ​​a biotech company based at Norwich Research Park that is developing a sustainable method of dyeing fabrics that could significantly reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. CEO Orr Yarkoni explains how his work makes textiles green.

Every month, those who work at the pioneering heart of Norwich Research Park tell us how their work is shaping the world we live in. Read their stories here.

In 2018, Stella McCartney presented an organic summer dress in her collection which was dyed using the Colorifix process
– Credit: Presstigious

What does Colorifix do?

We use synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms so that they can produce, deposit and fix dyes directly onto textiles. This is a more sustainable dyeing process that reduces water and energy consumption, while completely eliminating the use of toxic petrochemicals and chemicals.

Colorifix was born from a passion for water quality. In 2012, I joined co-founder Jim Ajioka’s lab at the University of Cambridge to research arsenic contamination in Nepal. We have developed a micro-organism sensor that would change color if the water was not drinkable. We asked members of the public how the chemicals in the water bothered them. This is when we were exposed to the impact of the textile industry and the number of pollutants from the dyeing of fabrics.

We thought, if we could have color-changing microorganisms, wouldn’t it be great if we could make them change the color of clothes? Instead of monitoring the problem, it could be part of the solution. We took this concept and applied it in an industrial context.

Why is the work you do so important?

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet. It produces over 100 billion garments each year and the dyeing stage alone uses around five trillion liters of water, with around 200,000 tonnes of dye (and other harmful substances) lost to rivers and streams. streams each year.

The real advantage of synthetic biology is that it works on different materials. We can dye polyester, nylon and cotton. We can also apply it to different stages of production, from yarn to fabric to garment. Colorifix can save approximately 49% of the water used in the cotton dyeing process. Our technology can also reduce energy consumption by 35% and carbon dioxide by 31%, while minimizing the carbon footprint of the supply chain.

Our impact could be very significant. I couldn’t put a number on that because the numbers are so big they’re beyond comprehension. Can anyone figure out what 5 trillion liters of water look like? But we hope to make an important contribution to reducing the environmental impact of the textile industry.

In 2021, Colorifix partnered with H&M to create a line of sustainably dyed products

In 2021, Colorifix partnered with H&M to create a line of sustainably dyed products
– Credit: H&M

With which fashion companies have you collaborated?

The first product we created was a dress for Stella McCartney. It was a great opportunity to test our performance and the dress was put on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum to show what the future of fashion could look like. We launched our first product with H&M in early 2021 and a capsule collection with Pangaia towards the end of last year.

Colorifix is ​​currently completing a Series B round of funding which we will use to accelerate our growth and hire many more people this year.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in science?

My parents always encouraged me to enjoy nature: how smart it is and what it does. From an early age, I was passionate about learning how nature transmits information and shapes the world around us, which led me to genetics and molecular biology.

By understanding how nature works, we can better interact with it. I later learned how important it was to apply engineering principles and design rules to nature. Synthetic biology was the most efficient way to achieve this.

How did you end up working in Norwich?

I grew up in Portugal and moved to the UK when I was 18. I studied at the University of Newcastle and did a masters in nanofabrication before a doctorate in biosensors. I finished my post-doctorate at the University of Cambridge, where I met Jim Ajioka. We won the Andam Innovation and Biostart prize which allowed us to have a deposit on a laboratory space.

The lab setup at the Norwich Research Park Innovation Center attracted us and we joined in 2018. Our research and development is done here in Norwich and we finalize our recipes at our Cambridge site, where we have a dyehouse with full-scale fermenters. .

What’s the best thing about working at Norwich Research Park?

Norwich Research Park is a great environment with a welcoming atmosphere. The space here is phenomenal. It gives us different lab setups, which are essential because we do different things – from dyeing to analysis to fermentation.

The university is a leader in the areas that matter to us. There are excellent institutes that we can work with and recruit. We are working with researchers at the Earlham Institute to improve production, so we can make darker colors and more pigment. It’s a world class facility – nothing is missing.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I spend time with my children – my family is a big part of my life. I like to read, meet people and learn new things.

One of my best friends from college introduced me to scuba diving. I visit her in the Cayman Islands whenever I can. I’m halfway through my rescue diver course, but unfortunately retaking it might take a while!

Orr Yarkoni is CEO of Colorifix at Norwich Research Park. You can follow him on Twitter @OrrYarkoni


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