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Michelle Zhu: Tackling the Garment Industry — One Dye at a Time

Michelle Zhu: Tackling the Garment Industry — One Dye at a Time

Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on climate change. Today I’m excited to bend the ear of Michelle Zhu, co-founder of the biotech company Huue.

Spiffy: It’s great to have you here Michelle! I’m really curious to find out what environmental challenge you are addressing with Huue.

Michelle: Thanks so much for having me, Spiffy. Did you know that the fashion industry contributes to a devastating amount of environmental harm globally every year? 

Spiffy: Really? How?

Michelle: With 17-20% of industrial water pollution coming from textile dyeing, wet processing is one of the largest challenges in that supply chain. All over the world, there are communities burdened with unhealthy amounts of toxic chemicals in local water sources, most of which are a direct byproduct of local textile production. Huue is using biotechnology to create cleaner sources of color for the world – without need for fossil fuels or hazardous chemicals. Our starting point is the indigo dye that is essential in the production of the most common item in our closet  –  jeans!

Spiffy: I imagine people would rethink their clothing consumption if they knew all of this! What motivated you to tackle this problem?

Michelle: Well, Spiffy, my parents are also entrepreneurs who started their own apparel company when we first moved to the US, so in many ways, I grew up in the fashion industry. I grew up loving great clothes, but I was also exposed to the less glamorous impacts that the industry has on the world. My co-founder, Tammy, shared her PhD thesis work with me about developing a cleaner indigo dye solution. She had this excitement to commercialize the solution and I felt like it was a calling to join forces with her. With my business experiences, I was ready to return to the fashion industry to do some good.

Spiffy: The stars aligned! Do you see any ripple effects? Who else benefits from your work?

Michelle: We are working to mitigate climate change and create cleaner living and working conditions for textile communities around the world. While we as consumers may benefit from unlimited choice of styles in the clothes we wear, we at Huue believe we should make sure the process and systems that enable fashion production are sustainable and fair as well.

Spiffy: I hope you achieve those goals! Is there anything exciting that has happened at Huue lately?

Michelle: I can't share too much publicly yet about our recent milestones, but I will say that we are so excited by the lab results we see every week on the performance of our dye product. We're coming a long way in confirming that sustainability and performance don't have to be at odds with one another — the technology of the future means that high quality products can be made without harm to people or the planet.

Spiffy: One of my favorite questions to ask . . . have you ever experienced failure?

Michelle: Not to be conventional, Spiffy, but I think fundraising is challenging for every founder, and especially in the case of young first-time entrepreneurs. We came so close to running out of money. Through that long tough process, I learned the importance of perseverance, believing in yourself, and using your big dreams to inspire others to support you.

Spiffy: The struggle is real, Michelle, but so are the rewards! Have you learned anything else recently that has altered your perspective?

Michelle: Actually Spiffy, my new dog, Daisy, reminds me everyday that spending time relaxing, getting out in nature, and soaking up quiet time, are critical parts of life and worth savoring. I can get really caught up with the millions of things that need to be done. I've come to appreciate that, sometimes, the best thinking time comes when you slow down.


Michelle is co-founder and CEO at Huue, making more sustainable sources of color, starting with the indigo in your jeans. Michelle grew up in her family’s apparel company, and her previous work was in strategy and operations across consumer and technology industries. As the team’s sole non-technical member, Michelle manages all of Huue's business activities. (Nominated by Indiebio | SOSV)