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Winning the Game of Making Waterless Dyeing Mainstream

IKEA, Nike and Adidas are cleaning up their value chains
Winning the Game of Making Waterless Dyeing Mainstream
Publ. date 22 Jan 2017
With the prediction that the global apparel business is to generate double digit growth between 2014 and 2020, substantial societal pressures are mounting on the way clothing retailers manufacture their garments. At current, the global textile industry is responsible for 10 percent of global CO2 emissions, and 25 percent of the world's pesticides is used for growing cotton.

Reframing the industry through sustainable innovation: waterless dyeing

In addition to improving the industry standards through valuable vehicles such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, innovation is the next step for the industry. However, fashion is a ‘low tech’ industry consisting of companies that mainly compete on price and lead times, but hardly on product or process innovation, fiber use or innovative business models. However, the future looks brighter, now new business models are starting to appear within the clothing industry.

Take for instance award-winning startup DyeCoo. In 2009, this Dutch company launched the world’s first ever industrial dyeing machine that uses high pressure carbon dioxide (CO2) as a replacement for water to dye polyester. In the ‘regular’ way, dyeing a kilogram of textiles takes approximately 70-150 liters of water. DyeCoo reduces it to zero. The CO2 used in the process originates from other industrial sources and is 95 percent recyclable. On top of that, the technology uses less chemicals and about half the energy of conventional dyeing techniques.

"The benefits are huge,” explains Reinier Mommaal, co-founder and former CEO at DyeCoo . “There is no water consumption, no use of chemicals and no drying. Although the investment costs are high, the lower operational costs and the faster processing than traditional dyeing illustrate great advantages."

Attracting the attention of big brands: Nike, Adidas and IKEA

With an estimated 39 million tons of polyester dyed annually, the massive market opportunity for DyeCoo was reason enough for Nike to become a shareholder in the company. Late 2013, Nike celebrated the opening of its first water-free dyeing facility at one of its suppliers featuring DyeCoo’s machines.

The Super Bowl 50 Nike Gold Collection, a special collection in honor of the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary in 2016, featured DyeCoo’s water and process chemical free textile dyeing technology. In the meantime, DyeCoo also attracted other suitors such as IKEA, that became a co-investor in DyeCoo, and Adidas, which used DyeCoo-technology to launch its proprietary DryDye concept.

Accelerating both sustainability and profitability

The complex supply chain that DyeCoo is operating in, results in many constraints for its business model. Scaling up is a basic prerequisite for DyeCoo in order to create the societal and financial impact that the company’s shareholders aspired to. To date, DyeCoo’s worldwide capacity of 32,000 liters and growing makes it a small player in a huge global market, but the future looks bright.

Next to Nike and Adidas, Swedish outdoor apparel brand Peak Performance has also launched products using the DyeCoo technology. Furthermore, DyeCoo launched the DyeOx 4, the latest version of its machinery at the end of 2016, and the company continues to develop new applications including yarn, elasthane, cotton and nylon. Combining efficiency with speed and flexibility, operational costs are up to 40% lower than water dyeing. As such, DyeCoo ensures there is no longer a compromise between sustainability and profitability.

Ready for business model innovation?

Are you ready to explore business design thinking to drive sustainable innovation at your company? Please contact us at for more information.

A previous version of this article appeared on INSEAD Knowledge.

Image source: Nike

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