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Ag Showcase Alum Partners with the Danforth Center to Scale-Up Natural Indigo Dye to Improve the Fashion Industry

On average, U.S. shoppers purchase 450 million pairs of jeans per year and have seven pairs hanging in their closet. However, many consumers don’t think about the synthetic chemicals that are commonly used to dye clothing.

Today, more and more consumers have a desire to know where the things they buy come from, and the environmental impact they have when produced. About 100 years ago, synthetic dyes started replacing the natural dyes that had been used for centuries, because plant-based dyes lacked the qualities necessary to support large-scale production. That’s where Stony Creek Colors sees an opportunity.


Indigo crop, Persicaria tinctoria, with nearly a 3 billion base pair genome, growing in Stony Creek Colors fields. Image courtesy of Stony Creek Colors.

Stony Creek Colors, a manufacturer of bio-based textile dyes, has the goal to innovate and build partnerships with farmers, mills and brands to achieve their dream of making pure and vibrant, consistent and scalable bio-based dyes. By removing what’s harmful in current practices, the natural dyes can clean up the fashion industry and contribute to a thriving future.

Recently, the Danforth Center and Stony Creek received a one-year grant from the National Science Foundation, Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnership (IIP) to improve the available genetic resources for plant-based indigo dye production to help make the manufacturing of blue jeans more sustainable.

“Stony Creek Colors’ research collaboration with the Danforth Center is a critical next step in the evolution of this plant-derived chemical,” said Sarah Bellos, CEO and founder, Stony Creek Colors. “Higher yielding and more consistent indigo crops will allow our bio-based colors to reach deeper into the industrial marketplace, ultimately replacing more of the petroleum based-chemicals currently imported by the textile industry with a domestically grown, plant-derived solution.”

Noah Fahlgren, Ph.D., director, Bioinformatics Core at the Danforth Center and co-principal investigator on the project will work to improve the understanding of the genetics of the existing indigo plant stocks through DNA analysis of specific high-yielding plant varieties. This research will enable Stony Creek to produce an improved bio-based specialty chemical derived from the renewable, abundant plant-material of the indigo crop, Persicaria tinctoria.

Indigo is a unique crop that can be found around the world. It has the ability to grow in temperate climates and thus has little need for supplemental irrigation or extreme fertilizer use which is essential to sustainable practices that will help farmers in the 21st century.

Indigo flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects providing an important late fall nectar source for honeybees. Agriculture also depends greatly on the honeybee for pollination. In fact, approximately one out of every three bites we eat makes its way to the table because of pollination. Indigo has also proven to be beneficial for soil. Some indigo varieties are legumes which host nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots that helps to add nitrogen to the soil.

“Farmers are at the heart of it all,” said Bellos. “And when innovation happens at farms, amazing things take shape. So by developing crops that bring health to the Earth and prosperity to farmers, we’re making the world better for everyone.”

img_8333_stony-creek-colorsBellos was one of four women-owned startups chosen to present at the 2015 Ag Innovation Showcase, the world’s premier event focusing on the convergence of agriculture and technology. Bellos received runner up for the Showcase’s Best of Show award after giving an inspiring, thought provoking presentation about the “dirty secret” in fashion that her company is working to combat against.

The number of women innovators continues to grow this year as six women-led companies will pitch their ideas to an audience of investors, industry partners and entrepreneurs.

The annual Ag Innovation Showcase has proven to be an ideal platform for companies to make the necessary connections to enhance business. 97 percent of presenters have been introduced to new partnership opportunities and four out of five presenting companies have found new investor leads.

Interested in hearing what this year’s companies are working on? Follow along on Twitter with #16AIS.

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BRDG Park at The Danforth Plant Science Center
1005 N. Warson Road, Ste 201
Saint Louis, MO 63132

Mark Gorski
p. 314-812-8027
e. mark.gorski@wexfordscitech.com

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