New Research Discovers How to Grow Colored Cotton

This could help replace the use of chemical dyes in clothing.


(Forest man72 /

It would be difficult to think of a world without colorful clothes. Still, where do those colors come from? The processes that take place before each garment reaches the wearers’ hands are unknown to most consumers. In the fashion industry, it is behind the scenes that fibers and textiles acquire their final hues. But something is about to change drastically. 

While the common garment dyeing processes require large amounts of water, energy and chemicals. Now a lab in Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has developed a genetically modified cotton that could grow in a range of different colors that may allow them to entirely skip the dyeing process.

The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of industrial water pollution globally comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles, including the emission of around 72 toxic chemicals that reach the water supply. It has also estimated that the annual volume of water used worldwide for fabric dyeing alone is 5 trillion liters, enough to fill two million Olympic-sized swimming pools!

The researchers led by Dr. Colleen MacMillan have achieved some really beautiful bright yellows, oranges and purples. But how can such an amazing breakthrough be achieved? According to Fast Company they have found a way to crack the genetic code of cotton.

While this is still in the early stages, the scientists will be working during the next few months in growing naturally colored cotton plants that will be able to reproduce by developing flowers and seeds. The goal is that they can be used for fibers that will be woven into colorful garments without the need of any dyes.

“Having the cotton produce its own color is a game changer,” MacMillan told ABC News Australia.

“This [research] can really have the potential to transform the global textile industry, because we're making fibers that are still biodegradable, still renewable, but still have properties that they don't currently have,” MacMillan said.

Naturally colored cotton could be revolutionary helping the textile industry drastically reduce its environmental impact. The benefits might be invaluable: including a great (if not total) reduction in the use of toxics, and a significant reduction in the use of valuable resources such as water and energy.

This new solution is just one way to create a more conscious fashion. The challenge is big but not impossible. The fashion industry has to think outside the box to keep finding ways that reverse the current situation and inspire hope for a sustainable future.

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