Project Description


Silkolor is an attempt to revolutionize the textile dyeing process by producing pre-dyed silk fibers and biodegradable protein-based dyes. Dyeing fabrics is a water-intensive process which produces large amounts of waste. The World Bank has estimated that textile dyeing and treatment contribute approximately 17-20% of the total industrial water pollution1. This, if not well managed, causes serious damage to the environment and health risks for the people.

Focus Areas

  • Pre-dyed silk fibers
  • Chromoprotein based dye with cellulose binding domain
  • Chromoprotein based dye with keratin binding domain

Our products are made using chromoproteins, binding domains, and/or spider silk. In addition to the pre-dyed silk fiber, Aalto-Helsinki team is working on dyes for two types of materials: keratin-based, such as wool, and cellulose-based, like cotton. Chromoproteins are naturally produced by corals and other marine animals, which offer a more environmentally friendly option than most of the currently used industrial dyes. Natural dyes derived from plants or insects can have problems with for example the color fading. We are testing if chromoproteins could solve this problem.

Textile fibers, especially cellulose-based fibers, do not have a good affinity for most of the natural dyes2. This is why mordants and dye fixatives are used to help bind the dye to the textile and also improve the fastness properties (for example resistance to sunlight and washing) of the dye3. The mordants used are often metal salts such as aluminum, iron, and copper. These problems are addressed by using a cellulose and a keratin binding domain to bind Silkolor pigments to the fabric.


textile dyeing is the second largest cause of water pollution4


of colorants contain chlorine, a well-known carcinogen5


worth of dyes end up in water annually due to the insufficient dyeing process6


1 World Bank (2014). The Bangladesh Responsible Sourcing Initiative. A New Model for Green Growth.

2 Kumar, A., & Konar, A. (2011). Dyeing of Textiles with Natural Dyes. Natural Dyes. doi:10.5772/21341

3 Uddin, M. G. (2014). Effects of Different Mordants on Silk Fabric Dyed with Onion Outer Skin Extracts. Journal of Textiles, 2014, 1-8. doi:10.1155/2014/405626

4 Perry, P. (2018, January 08). The environmental costs of fast fashion. Retrieved from

5 Krizanec, B., & Marechal, A. M. (2006). Dioxins and Dioxin-Like Persistent Organic Pollutants in Textiles and Chemicals in the Textile Sector. ChemInform, 37(36). doi:10.1002/chin.200636244

6 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017). A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion's future. [online] p.110. Available at: [Accessed 9 Jul. 2018].

Circular Economy

The last 150 years have been dominated by a linear model of production and consumption in which goods are manufactured from raw materials, sold, used, and discarded as a waste ('take, make, dispose' model). This has been economically successful as it enabled consumers to purchase affordable goods. However, this approach is very material and energy intensive. Natural resources are limited, thus an alternative like circular economy, which is restorative and regenerative by design, is needed to create sustainable solutions.

Circular economy is defined by 3 core principles7:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

The Aalto-Helsinki team focuses on designing out waste by producing pre-dyed raw material for silk textiles. In this way, a separate dyeing stage is removed completely, reducing the amount of water and logistics needed at this stage. Most importantly, the risks of hazardous dye material leaking into natural waters are reduced.

However, to objectively evaluate the Silkolor manufacturing process, life cycle assessment should be conducted in order to compare it with the traditional dyeing process. At the moment, it is still too early to do this, as the concept is under development, and optimization will be taking place.


7 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2012), Towards the Circular Economy

The Future of Fashion is Biology

In the last decade, the field of biomaterials has been just booming8. From concepts to applied products, it's gaining a stronger and stronger position in the consumer market with materials like AlgiKnit, Bolt Threads, Orange Fiber, and others. Synthetic Biology opens up a new space for development. Silkolor is an attempt to take a step in this development, working towards a more sustainable future.

Silkolor is in its very early development. The set up of iGEM enabled the project to start. However, to take this further, joint and collaborative forces are needed. In this initial project phase, we have identified the opportunities and we see the potential for the project to develop further. Through our design and integrated human practices research, we have identified that there there is a need for products like Silkolor. However, there is a set of technical challenges to overcome to make the product feasible and financially viable, which may take a long time. Thus, we welcome collaborators, sponsors, and like-minded people to join the forces and work on the solution together.