Reinventing Indigo + A Better Future for Denim Through Bio-Fashion Entrepreneurship with Tinctorium Co-Founders Michelle Zhu and Tammy Hsu

Indigo may sound benign because, well, plants (?!) right? Not so fast. As it turns out, the vast majority of today’s denim gets its true blue hue from a synthetic process rich in harmful chemicals that create problems for water supplies and workers alike. On this week’s episode of the Spirit of 608 podcast, you’ll hear from two San Francisco startup founders using biotech to reinvent indigo – and with it, a better future for denim. Listen in to hear how a chance and completely non-apparel-related inquiry into an indigo alternative in a UC Berkeley lab led this team of co-founders to start a company — and, we hope, an entirely new way of approaching the denim-making process thanks to the magic (okay, science) of microbes.

Meet this week’s guests, Michelle Zhu and Tammy Hsu, Co-founders of Tinctorium Inc.

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What to know

Curious about the co-founders’ journey? Tammy worked on this technology during her PhD at UC Berkeley, while Michelle brings the business background and a family history in the denim and apparel biz. According to Tinctorium, “Everyone owns a pair of jeans – they’re a wardrobe staple. But the untold story in the denim industry is that the very substance that gives jeans their iconic look, indigo, is polluting our planet. Today, chemically synthesized indigo is the industry standard for dyeing jeans. It is made from petroleum, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. And because indigo isn’t water soluble, it requires the addition of corrosive reducing agents in equal parts to be applied as dye. These toxic chemicals in the denim dyeing process are hazardous for workers and ruinous to water sources. For the last century, this problem has persisted as the status quo, untold and unresolved. Existing solutions are either unscalable or insufficient – until now.”

Luckily for the future, “We at Tinctorium have discovered a way to harness the power of biotechnology to enable sustainable indigo production. We figured out how to mirror a natural plant process within microbes to produce colors using completely renewable sources. We’re the sustainable solution for the future, and we’re taking on the denim industry to bring you cleaner jeans.”




Instagram: @tinctoriumbio

Twitter: @tinctoriumbio

Mentioned in this episode:

Indie Bio

AMA for Tinctorium on Reddit

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline



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