Colorifix, a U.K.-based biotech startup, is planning to kick off “industrial-scale trials” in December together with a handful of fashion industry giants, aiming to bring its dyes to market in 2020.

Industry partners include H&M, Switzerland’s Forster Rohner and India’s Arvind. The trials will be held at “dye houses already supplying those brands,” Reuters reported.

Colorifix has raised a total of $3.8 million since launching in 2016, according to PitchBook data.

Figuring out a formula for dyes that are both sustainable and commercially viable has been a Holy Grail for the fashion industry, as more environmentally-friendly ingredients and materials tend not to last as long as regular dyes. Still, a growing number of startups and big brands, like Kanye West’s Yeezy collaboration with Nike, keep trying, having pledged their support to bring more sustainable products to market.

“Dyeing is one of the things that is impacting the planet in the fashion industry,” West acknowledged recently at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York.

If Colorifix succeeds, it would mean a major breakthrough for the fashion industry, especially given H&M’s backing and support of other industry leaders.

“For the first pilots, I hope we have everything up and running by Christmas,” Chief Executive Orr Yarkoni told Reuters. “We are starting on multiple sites simultaneously in Portugal, Italy and India.”

The company’s competitors include French company PILI, Dimpora in Switzerland and MycoWorks in California in addition to more than a dozen others, according to PitchBook data. PILI, one of the closest rivals, aims to tap the principles of “fermentation with the most cutting-edge biotechnologies to create any colors with high performance and low impact on the environment.”

“Dyeing is one of the things that is impacting the planet in the fashion industry.”

Each company is going after a segment of the market like leather, so the industry as a whole is big playing field and ripe for disruption.Colorifix claims all of its dyes are biologically produced, using sugar molasses as its primary feedstock. 

“Colorifix harvests a color gene in nature and inserts it into a bacterial cell, tricking it to fill up with the color as well as duplicate,” the company says. “In Colorifix’s dyeing process, cells jump onto the fabric and release the dye on it, after which the solution is briefly heated up to kill them.”

The company’s three founders were originally working on developing biological sensors to monitor heavy metal contamination in drinking water in rural Nepal, according to the company’s website.

Their investors include Challenger 88, Cambridge Enterprise, Primera Impact and H&M’s venture arm, H&M CO:LAB. 

  • Textile industry’s reliance on synthetic dyeing contributes up to 20% of global industrial water pollution, World Bank estimates.

The fashion companies’ push for sustainability is driven by consumer demand. Over half of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. want the industry to be more sustainable, a recent survey found.