As well as carrying all the genetic information needed for organisms to develop and function, DNA (the biological molecule found in most cells of an organism) also determines colours by influencing the production and distribution of pigments through various genes.
Vollebak’s DNA T-Shirt is available in two shades of pale blue, achieved with pigment harnessed from the DNA of the indigo plant. To obtain these hues, the brand partnered with US biotech company Colorifix, which has pioneered an entirely biological dyeing process using genetically engineered, self-replicating microorganisms.
Colorifix’s process begins by selecting a colour from nature – whether from an animal, plant, insect or microbe – and identifying the exact genes that lead to the production of that colour. In the case of the indigo plant, its indigoid pigment is generated by a protein enzyme within the plant’s cells, which can produce hues ranging from light blue to deep purple. Colorifix recreates the required DNA code, and implants it into the bacterial cell of a microorganism. As the microbe self-replicates, it produces more colour pigment.
To produce sufficient amounts of pigment for fabric dyeing, the microorganisms are grown via fermentation, using renewable feedstocks such as sugar, yeast and plant byproducts. Vollebak’s two understated blues are determined by different types of sugar used during this process.
The resulting dyestuff can be used directly in standard dye machines, without the need for any added substances/chemicals or specialist equipment. The bacteria latch onto the fabric surface, releasing and fixing their colour into the fibres of the material.
The range demonstrates how biodesign can be harnessed to revolutionise environmentally damaging and resource-heavy industrial practices. It’s something we anticipated in our A/W 23/24 Direction Beyond and expect to become more mainstream. See The Biodesign Landscape 2022 and Emerging Designers 2023 for more.