New tech: Denim gets eco-friendly


With consumer desire for sustainable products and ethical brands rapidly increasing, important developments within the fashion industry are more crucial than ever.

Whilst developments in tech can often seem far removed from anything natural, a new piece of tech could help make blue jeans more eco-friendly by harnessing the power of something very natural – bacteria.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology detailed a new dye obtained from bacteria that could make denim production less harmful to the environment and mimic the functions of the synthetic indigo that is currently used.

The researchers have used an E Coli bacterium that makes indoxyl and can be combined with a glucose molecule to become indican, which is stable and can be stored. Adding an enzyme at the time the material is dyed turns it into indigo.

Co-author of the study, John Dueber of the University of California, said that although the process isn’t ready for industrial use at this early stage, it results in a product that is exactly the same as using indigo.

Dueber’s lab is working on improving the process that at present requires huge amounts of the bacteria to be able to dye just one pair of jeans.

Such developments are important in a world where consumers are not only increasingly focused on the brands they buy being eco-friendly but where some governments are legislating against polluting industries.

The study said that around 45,000 tonnes of synthetic indigo is produced annually and about 95% of this is used for production of 4bn denim items.

Despite denim-making having become increasingly eco-aware in recent years, sustainability issues such as the use of the use of chemicals in the process and much of the industry’s waste getting into rivers and streams, mean the search for an alternative is an urgent one.


At WGSN, we’ve reported on denim fabric trends before. Subscribers can read more here.

Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.