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Sourcing from the sea

Swatches | August 1, 2022 | By:

Growing seaweed doesn’t require fresh water, agricultural land or chemicals. Photo: Richie Rocket

Textile dyeing is a large and polluting industry. Synthetic dyes are a threat to the environment because of the dangerous chemicals that they often contain. One company, the Netherlands-based startup Zeefier, is taking a natural approach to changing that. Dutch designer Nienke Hoogvliet teamed up with entrepreneur Anne Boermans to launch Zeefier, a brand that will offer natural textile dyes made entirely from seaweed.

Natural dyes made from plant matter, such as bloodroot, marigolds, fennel, and carrots, among others, have long been used throughout history to color fabric. 

Natural seaweed dyes work best with natural fibers, such as cotton and silk. Photo: Zeefier

Zeefier researches and produces natural dyes made from seaweed for the textile industry. Growing and harvesting seaweed doesn’t require fresh water, agricultural land, or chemicals to grow. Moreover, it purifies CO2 and produces oxygen. Zeefier is working on the process to make seaweed-based dyes and textiles successful and commercially viable.

Hoogvliet has spent the past eight years researching how to create different color dyes using various types of seaweed. 

A sample of seaweed-dyed wool. Photo: Zeefier

But, as with any startup, especially one with such lofty goals, there are bumps in the road. For one thing, the natural dyes don’t seem to work well with anything but natural materials such as cotton, silk and wool. Seaweed-based dyes also have a somewhat limited color pallet. There are, of course, greens and browns, but there are also oranges, purples and pinks. Despite the existence of red seaweed, red dye has proven to be a bit problematic so far. But with more than 12,000 species of seaweed to explore, the company hopes to solve those problems as well.

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