DNA T Shirt

Made with genetically engineered self-replicating microorganisms, and DNA.


Model is 6ft 2 / 188cm with a 39 inch / 99cm chest, and wears size Large.

  • Dye produced from DNA of the indigo plant
  • Grown in a petri dish and fermentation machine
  • Garment dyed for softness

DNA doesn’t just make us, us. It also makes many of the colours we see in the natural world. So instead of using synthetic dyes to colour the DNA T Shirt, we use genetically engineered microorganisms and DNA.

If you’re wondering how to genetically engineer the colour blue, you access one of the world’s open-source biomolecular databases, select a protein enzyme found in the cells of the indigo plant, implant its DNA sequence into a self-replicating single bacterial cell, brew that bacteria like beer, then submerge the sweatshirt in the DNA soup we’ve brewed up. The enzyme produces different shades of colour depending on the types of sugars we feed it during fermentation, so the specific blue colour of each t shirt will be a little bit different.

Technical Details

Material made and dyed by RDD in Portugal: 100% BCI Cotton
Dye technology developed by Colorifix
Dye grown from indigo plant DNA
Material weighs 268g/m2
T shirt weighs 290 grams
Machine wash 30°C
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Clothing made with DNA

Since starting Vollebak, we’ve made clothes with some of the most advanced and unusual materials ever used to dress human beings. The short highlights list includes ceramics, graphene, carbon fibre, copper, 3D printed composites, ionic liquid, space parachutes, aerogel, seaweed, black algae, phosphorescent compounds, garbage, volcanic soil, glass, and wood. But next up, we’re entering the world of biomimetics, making clothing from genetically engineered bacteria… and DNA.

You’ve already got about 16 billion kilometres of DNA inside you. In case that’s not quite enough, you might like a DNA T Shirt.

A quick recap on what DNA is exactly

DNA is the biological molecule that contains the genetic code an organism needs to develop, survive and reproduce. It is found in most cells of every organism. The differences in DNA are why one person has blue eyes rather than brown, why giraffes have long necks and why you’ll find more than a thousand different varieties of mango in India. Every human cell contains around 6 feet of DNA. With around 10 trillion cells inside each human, that means each person has around 60 trillion feet, or 16 billion kilometres of DNA inside them.

DNA makes the colour we see in nature

DNA doesn’t just make us, us. It also makes many of the colours we see in the natural world. Take plants for instance. The genes of each plant direct cells to produce pigments of various colours. These pigments are molecules that selectively absorb or reflect specific wavelengths of light. And the colours we see are the wavelengths they then reflect. Which might attract us, or a bee, to go take a closer look – if our DNA tells us to. 

DNA doesn’t just make us, us. It also makes many of the colours we see in the natural world.

Unlocking the colour codes of DNA

Today we’re on the edge of a small revolution, as two Cambridge scientists named Orr and Jim have figured out how to pick out these genetic sequences that create specific colours in nature, and use them to grow colours from scratch in a lab. Their work comes several billion years after nature figured out how to use DNA to make colour, and 70 years after Francis Crick and James Watson – also at Cambridge –  discovered the structure of DNA itself.

Now we’re using DNA to make clothing

For the last 3 years we’ve been working in collaboration with their biotech start-up, Colorifix, which brings together the fields of biomimetics and molecular microbiology to genetically engineer microorganisms to produce naturally occurring pigments found in DNA. Keep reading and we’ll explain how it works.

We’ve chosen the DNA from the indigo plant

For the DNA T Shirt we’ve chosen the DNA of the indigo plant. More specifically we’ve picked out the molecular codes that instruct the plant to produce its indigoid pigment. This pigment is generated by a protein enzyme within the plant’s cells, and can produce hues ranging from light blue to deep purple. And these DNA databases give us access to the information to make these specific colours.

From a petri dish to a high-tech brewery

To make enough colour to dye clothes we obviously need more than just a petri dish of indigo. So we send our genetically engineered microorganisms to RDD, a cutting-edge dyehouse in Portugal. Here they’re grown in the same way you’d brew beer – through fermentation. The cells are added to a fermentation machine with water, sugar, yeast and plant waste. The more you feed them, the more they grow. And by doubling every 20 minutes they quickly create enough liquid to start dyeing a t shirt.

Garment dyed to make it ultra soft

The process of submerging clothes in dye like this is called garment dyeing. It’s more difficult and takes more time than regular dyeing. And it’s especially difficult when you’re using a completely new kind of dye. But it can help make fabric incredibly soft, and look and feel lived in from day one, with colour building up in the stitching and creases, while coming out paler at the edges.  

Nature used to be our only dyeing option

For thousands of years the only way to dye clothing was by sourcing colour from nature. The Aztecs and Mayans created red by extracting carmine acid from cochineal insects. Yellow cloth wrapped around Egyptian mummies was coloured by safflower petals. And the Romans made deep purple dye by crushing tiny murex sea snails for an ink stored in their hypobranchial glands. It took tens of thousands of snails to dye a small piece of fabric.

When we first started making clothing, the idea of getting to work with DNA was as improbable and far off as working with single layer graphene, vantablack, or kryptonite.

Size + Fit

The DNA T Shirt is designed with a regular fit.

Fits chest 83 - 90 91 - 98 99 - 106 107 - 114 115 - 122 123 - 130
Fits waist 71 - 76 76 - 81 81 - 86 86 - 91 91 - 96 96 - 101
Fits chest 33 - 36 36 - 39 39 - 42 42 - 45 45 - 48 48 - 51
Fits waist 28 - 30 30 - 32 32 - 34 34 - 36 36 - 38 38 - 40