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The indigo plant in bloom. Image credit: KarenHBlack / iStock

Fashion tech startup Stony Creek Colors secures $9m Series B for plant-based dye

March 3, 2021

Stony Creek Colors, a Springfield, Tennessee-based producer of natural indigo dye, has closed $9 million in Series B financing led by St Louis’ Lewis & Clark AgriFood Ventures.

The company, founded by CEO Sarah Bellos in 2012 when she couldn’t find a scalable source for natural dyes, is a leading producer of high purity natural indigo – a plant-based blue dye that looks to fulfill the increasing global demand for natural colorants in fabric and food. 

Under Bellos’ leadership, Stony Creek Colors became the first company in the US to grow the indigo plant at a scale usable by the commercial denim industry.

More than 1.2 billion pairs of jeans are sold annually, and one of the chief components of this wardrobe staple is the indigo shade of blue needed to create the necessary blue color. Historically, this was done with synthetic indigo dye, made with chemicals such as cyanide, formaldehyde, and benzene. 

But Bellos wanted to reduce the toxins and remove these harmful chemicals out of the supply chain. In a short time, Stony Creek Colors has created innovative tech including the development of a proprietary indigo plant variety which it says enables it to profitably supply the market with in-demand indigo plant-based color. The founder hopes this will enable the transition from synthetic, petroleum-based processes that rely on toxic chemicals.

“There is strong demand for plant-based dyes and plant-based alternatives to synthetic colors, both in textiles and food products,” Dave Taiclet, Lewis & Clark AgriFood’s general partner and managing director, told AFN. “It fits well with our investment thesis that consumers are demanding natural and eco-friendly alternatives.”

Stony Creek Colors’ BioPreferred-certified, plant-based indigo is free of the hazardous chemicals currently under scrutiny by leading denim brands and is grown on plots of land once reserved for growing tobacco. 

“Today, the synthetic indigo used in denim relies on petroleum-based processes that leave behind toxic residue on jeans,” Bellos said. “Stony Creek Color’s plant-made indigo is free of these toxins, providing a healthier and more sustainable solution for coloring denim. In addition, our indigo-producing crops create a high-value rotation opportunity for farmers, sequester carbon in the soil, and reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers.”

Lewis & Clark made the investment into Bellos’ company on what was the first day of Women’s History Month. 

“We were very excited to partner with Sarah given the limited number of female founders and CEOs in agtech,” Tim Hassler, managing director at Lewis & Clark AgriFood and now a member of Stony Creek Colors’ board of directors, told AFN. “We hope that this will propel the company to be a leader in plant-based colors in the textiles, food, and beverage markets, and secures them as a reliable partner to their demanding customers.”

Stony Creek Colors will use the funding to scale, allowing a geographic expansion of its proprietary indigo-producing crops and processing capabilities to bring its dye to more denim mills.

“We believe Stony Creek Colors has a unique, defendable strategy to not only deliver this product to the fashion world, but also the food sector,” Taiclet said. 

Other new investors in the Series B were Innova Memphis and iSelect Fund; returning from earlier rounds of financing were Green Spark Capital and Next Wave Impact.

“The ingenuity here is in Sarah’s vision to offer tobacco farmers with an alternative high-margin specialty crop that largely parallels current farming practices and more fully utilizes pre-existing capital equipment, bringing those farmers new means to generate revenue,” said Dean Didato, general manager at Innova Memphis, which invested in the Series B round through its Ag Innovation Fund IV.

“Customer demands for cleaner color and the removal of toxic chemicals from their products will not wane,” Bellos said.

“Our proven plant-based indigo solutions offer an exciting opportunity for brands to exceed customer expectations. This investment will leverage our new technology, from seed to extraction, to help bring Stony Creek Colors through a phase of rapid growth.” 

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