Team:Aalto-Helsinki/Human Practices

Integrated Human Practices

SILKOLOR - Harmony of Business and Environment in Textile Dyeing

We are a group of designers and scientists living in Finland. We love nature, and we live with nature. However, we noticed that some people in other countries can't enjoy the fullness of nature due to serious water pollution caused by the textile industry. To tackle this problem, we followed the Double Diamond design approach, developed by Design Council UK in 2005, and did desk research about textile industry. With a basic understanding of the textile industry, the stakeholder research was done by stakeholder analysis, structured and thematic interviews and expert consultation.

According to Koskinen & Battarbee (2003), “The aim of concept search is to understand how people might use future equipment, how they see themselves as users, and what makes their life sweet or sour.” Therefore, we used design empathy, the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and to understand them through their experiences. It is about making products for other people, who have different experiences, habits, competences, and living contexts than ours (Suri 2003). Through this process, we differentiated the stakeholders, based on the importance level related to our project, and further conducted interviews and expert consultation to uncover deep insights on the stakeholders’ pains, gains, and desires.

After conducting interviews with local people from Bangladesh and India and expert consultation with Finnish fashion design companies which have high environmental awareness, we realized that surprisingly, textile dye pollution did affect people from all walks of life. Textile dyeing is the second largest cause of water pollution, right after agriculture, due to the 10–50% dye loss during the dyeing and finishing operations, caused by the inefficiency of the dyeing process. Unfortunately, most textile dyes escape conventional wastewater treatment processes and persist in the environment for a long time, due to poor regulation and corruption. Furthermore, those harmful synthetic dyes not only destroy the environment but also threaten textile workers’ health. Aside from textile dyeing, raw material production is also a land-harming and water-consuming process. Sadly, most of those textile products are later shipped and sold in other countries, leaving the waste and pollution in Bangladesh and India. Can we step back and think about this issue? What if when we enjoy the vividness of clothes and textile products, we also consider nature?

Although fashion companies in Finland try to step in and take the responsibility to monitor labor rights and working conditions and to avoid environmental impact, due to the distance, the remote regulation is not efficient and effective enough. Moreover, in order to maintain profits, fashion companies improve sustainability conservatively.

Since the economies of Bangladesh and India heavily rely on the textile industry which is too competitive for a rapid transit to higher sustainable thinking, we aimed to provide gain-creators and pain-relievers through a value proposition based on the insights from the stakeholder research to ease the conflicts the textile industry causes between the economy and the environment. The prototype will be further tested with stakeholders and iterated.


Double Diamond Design Approach

The whole design process is based on the Double Diamond model, developed by Design Council UK in 2005. Through divergent thinking and convergent thinking, we identified the issues and formulated a problem definition in the first diamond process, including the “discover” and “define” stages. We brainstormed a large variety of problems all around the world in different scales and narrowed them down based on variability and interest. The solutions were further defined in the “develop” and “deliver” stages. Through article research, stakeholder interviews, expert consultation with designers, biologists and chemists, and idea-sharing in public, we explored the uncover techniques and concepts, and converged by experimenting and value proposition. Our whole process was iterative with continuous tests and refinements.

Fig 1. Double Diamond design approach.

Desk Research

Value Chain of Textile Industry

According to the desk research, the value chain of the textile industry starts from the design stage. Based on the textile design, the raw materials are formed into fabric and yarn. With those materials, textile products are finally manufactured and sold in the market. Unfortunately, normally, the products end up in the trash bin after use. Transportation connects the whole traditional value chain in the textile industry, which also causes greenhouse gas emissions and energy waste.

Fig 2. The value chain of the textile industry.

Stakeholder Research

Stakeholders Mapping

With a basic knowledge of textile value chain, we conducted stakeholder research to uncover the understanding of stakeholders and the textile industry.

Based on the value chain of the textile industry, we identified the relevant stakeholders. The stakeholders were mapped based on the power and transition ability of sustainable thinking they have in the textile industry. As a result, fashion companies that possess higher sustainability awareness, defined based on the yearly sustainability report provided from the companies, are the key players in the textile industry and are defined as the primary stakeholders in our project.

Based on the stakeholder map, we decided to conduct expert consultations with fashion companies as our primary stakeholders. At the same time, we also took secondary stakeholders - including a naturally dyed textile studio, local residents of textile manufacturing area, and textile manufacturing factories - into consideration. Through stakeholder interviews, we aimed to understand the situation of the textile industry better and uncover deep pains, gains, and desires of stakeholders.

Fig 3. Stakeholders mapping based on power and transition.

Fig 4. Stakeholders mapping.


In order to uncover deep insights to build a solid basement for innovative product design direction, we conducted stakeholder research through structured and thematic interviews.

An interview is a conversation where questions are asked to obtain information and learn from the stakeholders. In design research, interviews usually take place in the context of the user. We used both structured and thematic forms in our interviews. In structured interviews, the questions posed by the interviewer are created and followed through the process. On the other hand, we also did thematic interviews and let the discussion flow more freely with the interviewees delivering interesting opinions.

Primary stakeholder - fashion companies with higher environmental awareness

  • Marimekko
  • Finlayson
  • Pure Waste

Secondary stakeholder

  • A naturally dyed textile studio, Osem
  • Local residents of a textile manufacturing area
  • A textile manufacturing factory in Bangladesh

Stakeholder Research Data Analysis Approach

After collecting the data from the interviews and expert consultations, the data were evaluated into knowledge, based on affinity mapping, to understand the pains, gains, and desires in the textile industry. Opportunity questions were further brainstormed to solve the problems.

Fig 5 & 6. Stakeholder research data analysis approach.

Findings of Stakeholder Research

Based on the information that we collected from the interviews and expert consultations, we found out that overall, the mindset of stakeholders in the textile industry is conservative due to the profit-oriented business, no matter the manufacturing factories or fashion companies. Therefore, the environmental pollution, especially the water pollution stemming from the textile dyeing process can’t be avoided. Local people need to purify water with alum before drinking, and sometimes it doesn't help if the water is completely polluted. If basic needs are not fulfilled, how would the local people living in the textile manufacturing area dream of bigger dreams?

On the other hand, when fashion design companies with higher environmental awareness step in to improve the textile industry, including the labor rights, the safety of the working environment, and the environment-friendliness of the manufacturing process, they also face challenges between profits and environmental protection. Moreover, the efficiency and effectiveness of the regulation of manufacturing factories by fashion companies is relatively low due to the remote monitoring.

Furthermore, the raw material production is also a water-consuming and land-harming process. Nowadays, growing organic materials is a trend to protect nature; however, it makes the fabrics become really expensive.

Fig 7, 8, 9 & 10 Interviews with different stakeholders.

Fig 11. Interview quotes.

Insights of Stakeholder Research

According to our findings, there are three main pain points in the textile industry. The first one is the serious impact of water pollution on the lives of the people living near industrial areas. 10–50% of dyes are released into the environment because of the inefficiency of the dyeing process and because the dyes are resistant to wastewater treatments. The dyes also persist in the environment for a long time, as they are slow to degrade in nature. The second is the low visible improvement in raw material production and the unethical process of silk extrusion from cocoons. The third is the low efficiency and effectiveness of the remote regulation of textile manufacturing factories by fashion companies. To provide gain-creators and pain-relievers, we created a value proposition to solve the problems that we found from the stakeholder research.

Fig 12 & 13. Insights of the stakeholder research.

Value Proposition

A value proposition is a promise of delivering value to customers by providing gain-creators and pain-relievers. SILKOLOR is here to provide them based on the insights from the stakeholder research. SILKOLOR is an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient way of producing dyed silk fibers, which speeds up the transition of a brand to sustainable actions and further promotes visible contribution and brand reputation. Moreover, thanks to the local self-sufficiency of the manufacturing process of colored fibers, SILKOLOR helps fashion companies build transparency and well-regulation in the supply chain.

Fig 14. The value proposition of SILKOLOR.



Many challenges still prevent properly commercializing the production of silk protein. The industry has seen several contenders, but only recently one potential company close to scaling up their production enough has emerged: Bolt Threads1. The property of supercontraction in the silk seems to necessitate blending the silk yarn with other materials, such as cellulose or wool. Regular silk from silkworms is already expensive material with the price ranging between $60-100 per kilogram, but Bolt Threads have yet to optimize the production, which keeps the cost of their silk above $100 per kilogram.

Thus, there are many obstacles to prevent the large-scale production of silk, and we expect that our product of pre-dyed silk fiber would prove even more problematic due to different properties of the material and take well over a decade to properly enter the market with our products. Likewise, genetically engineering silkworms to produce colored silk have posed difficulties, in which limited success has been accomplished with managing to produce green fluorescent silk2. Additionally, mutant strains of silkworms and feeding mulberry leaves containing dyestuff have been successful ways to produce natural colored silks. Therefore, our team has decided to concentrate further on the fusion proteins with colorful chromoproteins combined with cellulose or keratin-binding domain.

Major issues with using natural dyes in comparison to synthetic dyes are numerous. The challenges of natural dyes matching textile industry’s expectations and requirements include economical price range, a wide range of hues and reliable colorfastness4. This also may be why synthetic biology and engineered microorganisms could have an important role to shift towards more sustainable production, as some of the reasons for the costliness of natural dyes is their extraction from their source, producing and applying them to textiles5. The most common dyeing techniques include exhaust dyeing, continuous dyeing, and printing, but it is yet unclear what sort of technique would be most compatible with our bacteria-produced dyestuff.

Similar goal of utilizing genetically engineered E. coli bacteria has been successfully conducted before, but usually, the approach has been different. For example, production of a precursor of indigo in E. coli has allowed researchers to circumvent the conventional polluting steps of indigo dyeing by removing the need for both chemical synthesis and also the bleaching stage in fasting the textile6. Thus, our dyeing solution may hold great potential due to the cellulose and binding domain that may remove the need for polluting mordants and reduce the excessive use of water.

1 Feldman, A. (2018). Clothes From A Petri Dish: $700 Million Bolt Threads May Have Cracked The Code On Spider Silk. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].

2 Mishra, A. and Rani, A. (2008). Biotech: A sustainable development tool for textile sector. [online] The Indian Textile Journal. Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

3 Ma, M., Hussain, M., Dong, S. and Zhou, W. (2016). Characterization of the pigment in naturally yellow-colored domestic silk. Dyes and Pigments, [online] 124, pp.6-11. Available at: [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].

4 Carvalho, C. and Santos, G. (2015). Sustainability and Biotechnology – Natural or Bio Dyes Resources in Textiles. Journal of Textile Science & Engineering, [online] 06(01). Available at: [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].

5 Ibid

6 Chemists go green to make better blue jeans. (2018). Nature, [online] 553(7687), pp.128-128. Available at: [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].

Value & Synthetic Biology Circular Economy

Thanks to synthetic biology, we combined chromoproteins with spider silk inside E. coli to provide an alternative process of dyed silk fibers. The raw material and fiber dyeing process are combined into a single step, which can be locally produced and well-regulated. Since there is no need for transportation between the raw material production and fiber dyeing steps, the carbon footprint is reduced, which makes the process more environmentally friendly. With SILKOLOR, we visioned the traditional linear textile value chain can be better-shaped into a more ethical one, generating circular economy.

Fig 15. SILKOLOR - Harmony of business and environment in textile dyeing.

Let Silkolor Help the Future

Silkolor is an attempt to revolutionize the textile dyeing industry. The current water pollution issues are complex, global, and have been addressed by UN Sustainable Development Goals as a part of the 17 causes that need urgent collaborative effort to solve (Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal 14: Life Below Water). However, with our biggest efforts, there is still a long development ahead for Silkolor and it may take a long time to offer a viable solution. But we do believe in it! Our work has been an initial step, however it gave enough evidence to show the need from the industry and locals to solve the environmental issues.

Thus, we invite academia, businesses and other parties to collaborate to make Silkolor happen. Join Silkolor to make the change!

For collaborations, reach us via email:

Heureka Feedback Results

After complex stages of manufacturing, the textile products reach consumers via clothing buyers and retailers. Consumers being the last stage of the textile value chain has tremendous importance in determining the overall direction of the industry itself. Since textile, just like any other industry, is driven by consumer demand, it is vital to understand how the local consumers' choice of clothing can impact the whole value chain.

Due to the limited local production, some of the principal imports of Finland are textile fabric and yarns1. The clothing and textile retail value is approximately 3,4 billion euros, out of which about 5% of the imports are from Bangladesh and about 4% from India2. Therefore, we are interested to study the choices of Finnish consumers and how those choices are shaped by environmental awareness and price range of the products in-depth. We conducted a survey for the adult participants during our exhibition at Heureka. The collected data shows interesting results. For the ease of data collection, we used an online platform to display the participant satisfaction questionnaires. Since the survey was limited to our exhibition in Heureka only, we used non-probability convenience sampling to ensure ease of access.

Among all the participants of the adult survey questionnaire, 92% found our activities interesting (Figure 1) and almost 49% expressed that they learned something new about synthetic biology (Figure 2). Also 90% of the attending adults responded that sustainable fashion is perhaps important to them considering the detrimental effects of fast fashion on the environment (Figure 3). However, when it comes down to paying extra for the sustainable clothing, it seems price indeed can affect the consumers' choices.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Among adults, 54.5% of the respondents expressed they would invest 1.5 times the typical price to purchase sustainable textile products, while 18.2% raised the mark up to 2 times the typical price. However, 27.3% of the participants would rather not invest more than the price they are paying now. The survey result shows a promising future for sustainable textile products, given that more effort is needed to make these products affordable.

The survey sample is quite small to draw any conclusions regarding the overall Finnish consumer attitude towards sustainable fashion. However, it lays the basis of further development for the future.



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