Clean Technology Canada

Mitacs intern earns distinction for Material Futures, a bio-colour platform reducing environmental hazards in textiles manufacturing


June 2, 2022
By Canadian Manufacturing
Presented by:
CMO

Iris Redinger (Credit: Mitacs)

WATERLOO — Iris Redinger is on a mission to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry — estimated to account for roughly 20 percent of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide — by bringing an all-natural dyeing solution to market. Her secret ingredient? Using microorganisms to “grow” colour.

Redinger’s disruptive process has earned her an award from Mitacs, an organization that is trying to solve business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

In recognition of her efforts to advance the a bio-colour platform through her start-up company, Waterloo-based Material Futures, Redinger — a Mitacs intern who earned her Bachelor of Architecture at Waterloo University last year — will be presented the Mitacs Environmental Entrepreneur Award on June 2 at a ceremony in Montreal.

“I’ve always had a passion for the fashion industry,” said Redinger, who learned to sew at a young age and, as a co-op student during her first year studying architecture, had the opportunity to work with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen on the renowned Dome Dress, shown at Paris Fashion Week in 2017 and now part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s collection.

“Dyeing clothing is one of the biggest environmental challenges in the fashion industry,” Redinger explained. “Historically, we used plants to colour textiles, but now we use chemical processes derived from harmful petroleum products. With recent developments in synthetic biology, now is the right time to return to nature as a source for colour.”

To pursue her idea, Redinger founded Material Futures in 2018, hiring researchers to help develop her method, which is patent pending. After identifying microorganisms that naturally produce colour, she applies genetic engineering techniques to make it their primary function. The end products are fully biodegradable colorants that can be easily substituted into existing manufacturing processes.

“Many countries that dye textiles don’t do a good job of treating their wastewater, which is problematic because people often drink, bathe, and swim in this water,” Redinger said. “One solution is to develop dyestuffs that don’t require water to be used in the colouring process, but that approach will require costly new equipment, new factories and new infrastructure.”

“By applying green chemistry and natural elements, we’re working to create a more environmentally conscious and sustainable fashion world,” she added.

Redinger’s focus is now on growing her solution, which has been proven at the lab scale. The technology has gone through performance and feasibility testing to ensure the naturally-dyed textiles stand up to repeated washing without fading and meet other thresholds for industry-grade fabrics.

She is also raising a round of funding to help accelerate her company’s go-to market strategy, and will be investigating the natural dye’s application to cosmetics, food colourants, plastics, and other industries.

Redinger is one of five winners of the Mitacs Entrepreneur Award who are being recognized for their efforts to turn their research into innovative businesses that impact the lives of Canadians.