Harari’s new venture, ColorZen, aims to clean up cotton dyeing for good.
ColorZen introduced a remarkable technology to the world in July 2012 that involves no toxic chemicals and a phenomenally small amount of water, cutting costs, energy and time use all around. Focusing on cotton, since its the most used fiber in textile applications worldwide, the company is launching partnerships with major brands in hopes of triggering vast changes in the most toxic and energy intensive part of textile processing.
EcoSalon caught up with Michael Harari, president of the New York based venture, to learn more about ColorZen and its noteworthy attempts at transforming the way we color our fabrics.
How does the ColorZen dyeing process work?
Conventional dye procedures, which have been done for the last 100 years, are lengthy, inefficient and environmentally harmful. They use a lot of water, consume a lot of energy, take a long time and use toxic chemicals.With ColorZen we pre-treat cotton fiber that is then spun into yarn and either knitted or woven into fabric and generally then dyed. When you dye with ColorZen treated cotton, you can dye with 90% less water, practically eliminate all the harmful chemicals, such as salt and alkali which are very toxic to the waterways, cut energy by 75% and you can dye the same fabric in less than 1/3 of the time. We have zero toxic discharge, meaning that we eliminate toxic discharge from one of the most inherently toxic processes of the textile production cycle.
Since the ColorZen process is non-chemical, what exactly happens to the cotton fiber to render the dyeing non-toxic and free of chemicals?
There is a chemistry that’s applied to the cotton, so that we change the cotton in one particular area on a molecular level, isolating the molecule that is responsible for either receiving or rejecting the dye in a dye bath. We add something to the molecule that hooks dye into the fiber so that there is a natural affinity between fabric and the dye, and you no longer need toxic chemicals to bond the two together. The raw cotton fiber that goes into our machine and the cotton that comes out of our machine looks, feels and behaves the same.
Some people have questions about the chemistry we use and we also questioned the chemistry when we initially started so we went ahead and tested it. We received certification from OekoTex, which tests the treated cotton fiber for any substances or chemicals that could be harmful to people.
What equipment is needed in dye houses to implement the ColorZen process?
That’s the beauty of it, they don’t really need to do anything other than purchase cotton treated with the ColorZen process, or send cotton to us for treatment.They also need to follow our procedure for dyeing, meaning that it will allow them to use that much less water, time and energy as well as eliminating the chemicals.
So you can only treat cotton fiber, but not yarn or fabric?
Correct. We’ve specifically chosen to treat the fiber as opposed to the yarn or the fabric as it’s the first part of the production cycle. So if you treat the fiber, you can achieve the savings I mentioned earlier in any stage of the production cycle. Dyeing happens at nearly every stage of production, so treating the fiber with ColorZen technology can save for everyone along the supply line.
Can the technology be used for other types of fibers?
Right now we’ve mastered a way to use technology for cotton and we have not brought the technology to market with other cellulosic fibers yet. We are in the process of constantly doing research but considering that cotton is the most prolific fiber in the world, constituting fiber content in more than half of the world’s garments, we have a big market place for it.
Why doesn’t the technology work with polyesters? Is it because of the molecular composition of polyfibers?
Can the ColorZen technology be used with natural dyes?
To my understanding any dye except for indigo can be used. Indigo has a very unique chemical composition that is different from traditional dyes so it reacts with cotton very differently and is applied in a different way.
How much waste does your production facility emit and how energy intensive is the ColorZen process?
Our factory is a very sustainable facility, with zero liquid discharge, meaning that any liquid that is not absorbed by the cotton is recycled and re-used in the process. We also have a rainwater capturing system for our factory, meaning that we use almost no municipal water source, as the rainwater is sufficient. So we are closed loop and very energy efficient, with machines specifically designed to run on low power.
The ColorZen Team
How has the technology been received thus far?
I still cannot believe how much interest we are getting. I have a flood of emails from retailers, brands, fabric houses, dye houses, cotton growers, NGO’s, students, professors. A lot of the inquiries are coming from multinational brands and companies, which is very exciting.
Are you planning on expanding from your one production facility in China to meet all the demand?
Absolutely, we see this as a global solution. Thus far the demand has far exceeded our ability to supply it but the good news is that our model is very scalable and can grow very quickly. We have plans in the near future to expand into major textile production countries.
How do you foresee ColorZen changing the textile dyeing industry?
The industry has functioned one way for the last 100 plus years, and I think people may have given up on that ever changing. We’ve found ways to grow cotton organically and recycle or compost the material at the end of its life, but I think people have given up on the idea of dyeing cotton in a way that doesn’t harm the environment or use enormous amounts of water and energy. So our environmentally friendly way to dye cotton is a real industry change, but what we foresee as the industry standard whereby every pound of cotton that is dyed is first treated with ColorZen technology.
How is ColorZen educating consumers on the effects of the textile dyeing industry?
Before I got into this business and started working with ColorZen technology, I really had no idea that the dyeing of my favorite purple t-shirt from my favorite brand was coloring the rivers purple, harming the wildlife, and ruining the water source for several people. I think there a lot of people out there that really care about the environment, but have no idea that the colored cotton pants they’re wearing or the sheets they sleep on harmed the environment during the coloring. If we can educate the population on what really goes on in conventional cotton dyeing, we can have a bigger impact by causing consumers to demand cotton that is dyed more responsibly. The way to do that is to demand cotton treated with ColorZen technology, which will be discernible with a labeled tag on garments, and our website will soon have a list of brands and retailers that we are collaborating with.
Who do you think holds more power – consumers or producers?
I think consumers do. If I’m a brand or a retailer and my customers are sending me emails, calling me up and telling my staff at stores that they want more sustainable products and cotton shirts dyed responsibly, then I’m going to listen to them because I want to maintain and grow my business as well as maintain my image in the marketplace as a sustainable business.