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Brief Published: 15 Jul 2020

Scientists Discover How to Grow Coloured Cotton

Coloured cotton plant tissue will soon grow into plants

In an advancement that could help improve the chemical footprint of the global textiles industry, scientists in Canberra have developed a method for growing naturally coloured cotton without the need for harmful chemical dyes.

Through a process of genetic engineering, the team at CSIRO have been able to modify cotton’s molecular code for colour by adding new colour genes. This means the plant could be grown with inherent colour, rather than in standard white. While the development is in its early stages, the team are optimistic and have managed to achieve a range of hues – from bright yellows and golden oranges, through to deep shades of purple.

The main focus is now on growing naturally black cotton, which could help eradicate the use of hazardous petroleum black dyes. It’s a particularly significant undertaking, considering 20% of global industrial water pollution is attributed to the dyeing and treatment of textiles (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017). See Conscious Colour for more non-toxic and innovative dye solutions.

Cotton production has a huge negative impact on the environment due to its excessive use of pesticides and water during cultivation – but there are more ecologically and socially progressive options. We highlight these, along with other key considerations when sourcing material portfolios, in Sustainable Fashion: How to Source.