Seaweed startup helps textile makers move away from synthetic dyes

A SCOTTISH startup using seaweed as the base for natural fabric dyes could help fashion and textiles manufacturers improve sustainability and reduce their reliance on petrochemical-derived colourings.  

SeaDyes is currently in talks with potential investors and partners in the fashion industry, including a luxury Scottish cashmere brand, to take the concept for its biobased product to the next stage of becoming a mainstay in our wardrobes.

The business was founded last year on the back of a research project between the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and Jessica Giannotti, the marine scientist behind Crùbag – a textile studio based in Oban that tells the story of the ocean through its designs – during which coloured pigments were successfully extracted from seaweed.

Starting with a bright magenta colour, the dye has so far been tested on a range of natural fibres including cellulose, cotton blends and wool to assess the performance. The team hopes to expand the technology to include a full spectrum of colours that can be applied to multiple types of fabrics and other base materials. The natural dyes could potentially also be used as a colourant for other products and in other sectors in the future.

Synthetic dyes are typically created from fossil fuels, contributing to global pollution and climate change. SeaDyes also has the potential to support a more circular fashion industry. Garments made with seaweed-based dyes and natural fabrics can be biodegradable and much kinder for the environment when they reach the end of their life cycle.

SeaDyes was one of the first startups to take part in the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre’s (IBioIC) Biotech Innovators accelerator in 2023, supporting the business with critical growth activities including strategy development, pitching for investment and marketing plans. Its founders are also working with the innovation centre to explore how SeaDyes’ technology can be applied on an industrial scale. Future plans include assessing how co-products of the dye extraction process could be repurposed by other sectors, rather than seaweed biomass going to waste.

Jessica Giannotti, founder of SeaDyes, said: “For the past decade I have been combining art and science to create textiles and designs that celebrate and communicate the wonder of the ocean, seeking to use the most sustainable methods for production. With SeaDyes we are taking that one step further, using seaweed to create a rainbow of vibrant colours that can be used by the fashion and textiles sector at large.

“With consumers today demanding higher ethical standards the natural dyes market is rapidly expanding and driving innovation. Seaweed is a great raw material resource as it stores carbon, cleans water and is globally abundant. We are offering a sustainable bio-based alternative to synthetic dyes, and we are working towards developing the technology on an industrial scale. With IBioIC’s support we are confident that SeaDyes can deliver global impact and change the textile industry for the better.”

Liz Fletcher, director of business engagement at IBioIC, added: “Startups like SeaDyes, which are using biotechnology to make a difference in key industries, are hugely important for Scotland and the UK’s net zero transition and the development of a greener economy. There are so many bio-based options to be explored that could replace petrochemical-derived products we use on a daily basis. Our accelerator programme provides founders with the support they need to take ideas and concepts to commercial scale, helping them to get past the initial hurdles of starting a business where many may falter.”