Cool science makes itself fashionable

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AgResearch has developed a wool-dyeing process which prevents colour bleeding. Photo / Babiche Martens
AgResearch has developed a wool-dyeing process which prevents colour bleeding. Photo / Babiche Martens

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Up till now, dyeing a pattern on wool fabric has been a relative no-goer because bleeding of the dyes into each other ruined whatever picture you were trying to create.

So, keep an eye out for some new dyed wool products coming to a store near you soon - a result of some pretty cool science and research that no one else around the world has managed to crack.

Wellington and Christchurch based BGI Developments has won the right to commercialise AgResearch's new process, which apparently is a quite simple addition to a fabric manufacturer's set up.

The process, developed at AgResearch's Lincoln campus and led by Dr Stewart Collie, means the colouring and patterns and graphics aren't just printed on top of the fabric (as in your T-shirt type pictures).

In an 18-month project, they've figured out how to stop those bleeding dyes.

BGI Developments' (Bloody Good, really) Wellington director Robyn George-Neich has already had extensive overseas clothing sales success with her baby and children's clothing label Maselme - most notably in Switzerland and the US.

She's teamed up with Christchurch's Brent Gregory who has been in the apparel industry most of his life, and are taking the process to clothing and fabric manufacturers around the globe.

George-Neich says the dyed fabric looks and feels better than standard printed fabric as it doesn't have a plastic graphic on it. The print also doesn't deteriorate over time and feels nicer and looks better for longer.

One beauty of the process is that manufacturers and fashion designers can choose colours and designs just before entering the market. Such flexibility of production reduces the risk for manufacturers and retailer alike.

AgResearch has done the right thing in handing over to someone else the challenge and risks of taking the technology to the world. It can expect significant royalties, which can be ploughed back into more research.

BGI has an opportunity to make a significant play, effectively creating a market position where none has existed before.

New Zealand Inc is in the hot seat of adding significant value to wool fabrics - again re-inventing the fibre and lifting its perceived worth.

All in all, this is a neat development of cool science that the general public can immediately see - literally. Of course, the buyers of the product may not recognise it as being science, but that's exactly what it is.

Imagine what some of those well-known NZ merino clothing brands are now thinking they might be able to do with the process.

As long as it is not a variation of black on black, the outcomes should be colourful.

Peter Kerr is a journalist, writer and consultant in the innovation space. View his work and that of 35 other scientists and science writers at Sciblogs, New Zealand's largest science blogging network.

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