Photo of Tammy Hsu

Energy & sustainability

Tammy Hsu

Her new dye can make one of the world’s most common types of clothing more environmentally friendly.

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Many consumers don’t realize that indigo, the signature color of denim, requires synthetic chemicals like formaldehyde and cyanide, which can be harmful to workers and can sometimes contaminate local water sources. Given that jeans are one of the most ubiquitous clothing items in the world, this is a huge environmental problem.

Tammy Hsu, the chief scientific officer of Huue, worked with colleagues to study how color is made in nature and program microbes to enzymatically produce the shade they wanted. The result is a sustainable solution that doesn’t rely on harmful processes or chemicals. Now the challenge is to make the natural dye as cheap to use as the synthetics the industry relies upon. “The chemical industry has had 100 years to hone their process and make it cost efficient,” Hsu says. “We were founded two years ago. We’re trying to catch up with that. That’s one of our biggest goals, to drive down the price of our process.”

Huue is on track to release its indigo dye next year. Next up for Hsu is figuring out how to coax microbes to produce a range of different dyes. “We’re trying to provide the fashion industry with an alternative way,” she says.