October 6, 2022

Denim and more: Huue seeks ‘clean’ dyes

biotechnology company Huue (pronounced colors) is a mission to mimic and reproduce nature’s rainbow without the use of toxic chemicals.

“We wanted a name that would help us redefine the way we think about colors while being very simple,” Huue CEO Michel Ju told GreenBiz. synonymous with color And it reflects that we are creating the colors that nature intended.”

The idea for Huue, which creates a non-toxic alternative to synthetic dyes for textiles. It started in a lab at the University of California, Berkeley campus, where Tammy Hsu, the company’s Chief Scientific Officer, earned his Ph.D. in bioengineering

Founder Huue — two people — pose on the stairs.

This is where friendship begins. Zhu’s partner is also a bioengineer and works in the same lab at Hsu. Because of that relationship, the CEO and CSO became friends before starting the business.

Beginning of Huue

When Hsu studied at the graduate level The first thing she did was look at the way plants make indigo and find the enzyme needed to make the color. She then designed a microbe to produce the enzyme and make the indigo by herself. This process was the foundation for Huue’s current operations.

In early 2019, Hsu realized the interest and demand for this kind of technology from fashion brands. That’s when Hsu, with her scientific expertise, and Zhu, with business and strategy backgrounds. join hands to establish Huue

Zhu grew up in a textile and apparel family. Her parents started an apparel brand with a focus on urban streetwear in the late 1990s and expanded into all genders through a range of brands.

“I’m going to visit some clothing factories on a summer trip to China with my family growing up and seeing the pollution firsthand. Whether it’s the airborne particles that workers have to avoid with masks or the dirty waterways around the factory,” she said. Processing required in the fashion industry”

Before we delve into the details of Huue’s technology, here’s a brief history lesson: Until the mid-1800s. Dyes are obtained from natural sources.. Think of plants, insects, and other resources. Then, the English chemist William Henry Perkins discovered the first synthetic dye while experimenting with bitumen. This is a byproduct of the dark, thick liquid from coal gas production. causing ripples leading to The current $11.1 billion textile dyes industry..

“Suddenly you have more affordable dyes. And there are also much purer and more efficient colors for industrial use,” Zhu said of the use of synthetic dyes, petrochemicals or coal. “But we all know that. It also comes with environmental compromises. and even in many cases impact on human health

On a global scale, fabric dyeing is one of the leading water pollution activities. United Nations Environment Program.

From the desk to the supply chain

Huue is now using synthetic biology to return to nature with dye production. Hsu’s research focuses on how nature creates colors. traditional dyeing through the company’s proprietary microbial programming

“That’s the general principle behind the way we do things. At Huue, we look for inspiration from nature. Either indigo blue or beet red. or pink flamingos,” said Zhu.

For now, the company focuses on indigo dyes. But eventually trying to branch out into other shades. To do this, Huue identifies and sequences enzymes from natural resources, such as plants that are used to identify the enzymes to create indigo.

When companies have interesting enzymes which want to use for dyeing fabric It is expressed in the microbial strain to see if it produces the target molecule. It also performed genetic editing of the stress to see if it improved the production of target molecules.

When there are likely microbial strains to grow in a bioreactor to see how much dye molecules are produced in a larger environment. better control and get better food “This is a mini-model of the fermentation characteristics in a large fermenter by size. This is very similar to step 2, except using a bioreactor to expand the cell,” Zhu said.

Huue can grow microorganisms in any size container. From petri dishes to processing tanks at this point and until now. The company has partnered with manufacturing plants to process thousands of liter tanks. And there are smaller replica tanks – 1 to 10 liters – in Berkeley’s lab used for research and development.

after the fermentation process will make the dye pure Then the yield and purity were measured. These measurements help determine the amount of indigo produced by the substrate material and the percentage of the dye. An industrial term for a substance that can be used as a dye when added to a solution is an indigo molecule.

Indigo Dyed Cotton

Finally, the dye is tested by dipping a cotton swab in the dye bath and squeezing it dry on the fabric backing. Then additional measurements were taken to assess the color of the fabric. Color and wear quality of dyed fabrics and the dye bath

“In that sense, we are building a no-compromise solution made from renewable and cleaner inputs. But there are also purity metrics. The scalability and performance the industry needs to be scalable and practical. [a mass scale]said Zhu.

Huue is focused on transforming benchtop development into products that are one-to-one, drop-in replacements in the fashion company’s supply chain — so manufacturers won’t have to use new equipment or processes to integrate Huue’s dyes. The company has also prepared a process for scaling. to be able to work with large production plants “To start serving the industry in a meaningful way,” Zhu said.

back in july The company received a $14.6 million Series A prize, led by material effectto launch and adjust the indigo dye used in denim This summer, Huue’s team has about 15 strong employees, and Zhu expects the employee list to grow to 25 by 2023.

“I think the ultimate goal is to meet the demand we see from our brand community for our cleaner colors,” Zhu said.

Huue’s brand partners are under obscurity. But she noted that “Working and experimenting with household denim names that I think readers will know and love.”

Working for the denim company, Huue wanted to demonstrate the value of technology. Because drop-in replacements are just as effective as with conventional petrochemical options

Huue is not the only company in the color mission. Trying to disrupt the market for natural textile dyes expected to grow From $725 million in 2020 to $1.5 billion in 2026. in the United States alone (The figure also includes dyes used in other industries such as food and beverages and cosmetics.)

Similar to Huue, England-based Colorfix uses a biological process to reproduce pigments. Made in nature, earlier this year it received its immersion. $22.6 million in Series B roundLed by Swedish fashion giant H&M. which has recently been criticized because it seems False Sustainability Claims.

still have recyclewhich turns textile waste fibers into fine powders that can be used as dyes for fabrics and garments. According to its website, it recently teamed up with materials science and fashion company Pangaia to launch. capsule collection “Earth Friendly” using dye

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