Conversation with Dr Alan Hudd, CEO & Founder at Alchemie Technology.
Alchemie has recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, marking a decade of pioneering advancements in the realm of dyeing and finishing technology. Can you recollect the pivotal moment when you made the decision to establish the company?
Reflecting on those 10 years, a pivotal moment was when I was consulting in China with a focus on textiles. During that time, I engaged with the owner of a dye company. I vividly remember showing him a video showcasing technology while walking down an alleyway late at night. The next morning, he took me to the dye house, an experience that was quite distressing. The temperature spiked another 10 degrees as we entered, full of polluted dye on the floor, the air heavy with steam and dust—it was an appalling environment to witness. Amidst this haze, a Chinese worker emerged, shirtless with a prominent scar across his chest. He then showed me around the dye house… It struck me then that surely this can’t be the way we all dye textile fabrics, this couldn’t be the fate of those involved in textile production. There had to be a better way. This realization spurred our pursuit of digital technology and innovation, believing that Alchemie could truly transform the industry.
What are the primary challenges that an innovative company faces when introducing new technology into an industry that traditionally relies on conventional dyeing methods?
Alchemie is truly an innovator. The technology that we have invented, nurtured and developed is really very different from any other digital technology that exists. Alchemie’s proprietary technology, digital liquid application solution, combines a large droplet size and high droplet velocity to deliver unrivalled penetration into the textile.
The technical challenges are relatively easy compared with the challenges of engaging with a traditional industry that is highly sceptical of new technology and highly resistant to change. It's really all about the engagement process with the market, especially when the market has a supply chain, whereby the brands accept to monitor change, but the dye houses who supply the brands have no incentive to change. The big challenge is convincing people that technology is the way forward. The industry has been burnt in the past by technologies that have failed at the first or the second stage. So it really is all about the detail of convincing the market with real data about how you claim to change it.
In such a traditional industry, nobody really wants to make the first move, because of the risks associated with introducing a new technology, everybody just sits around and waits and hopes someone makes the first move to prove it works. And so it's very difficult to break through that resistance thinking where everybody would just want to wait and be second.
A decade is a considerable span of time during which new technologies emerge and some fade away. How have you observed the evolution of the industry from 2013 to the present day?
Over the past decade, our technology's development marks just the beginning of our journey. Typically, for a technology to truly penetrate a mass industry application, it takes about 20 to 25 years. Consider the transformation brought about by digital technology in various industries—it often requires a quarter of a century to firmly establish. Our progress in 10 years is commendable; we're moving swiftly, largely driven by the urgency posed by the climate crisis. We're compelled to find solutions; there's simply no alternative.
In recent years, brands have earnestly started addressing the need to clean up the textile industry. However, we're still grappling with the challenges entrenched in a transactional and harsh supply chain. We're overcoming obstacles associated with past technologies that either failed or took significantly longer to reach this stage—like Dyecoo, which has been striving for 15 to 20 years to break into this industry. We applaud their efforts and wish them success.
In the upcoming years of commercial involvement, we envision firmly cementing our position as the foremost catalyst for change in the textile industry. Our goal is to significantly impact emissions and mitigate wastewater pollution.
Could you highlight some of the most significant initiatives in which Alchemie has been a part of?
As we deliberated on our direction, it became evident that we held a solution for the challenges facing the textile industry. Previously, operating as a consultancy with diverse involvements, we recognized the pressing need within the textile sector. We firmly believed in our capability to offer a robust solution tailored to address these industry needs.
We were very fortunate to find two external investors in the form of a trade investor in H & M and also an impact investor At One Ventures, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund focused on disruptive technologies that combat climate change. They were like-minded investors to what we were trying to achieve, very supportive and encouraging. That was definitely an initiative that set us going to where we are today. When we look at other initiatives we've made, then there are lots including winning prizes such as the EIT-Climate-KIC, the EU’s main climate innovation initiative: The Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC), working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient society.
Alchemie was also chosen to take part in Fashion for Good D(R)YE Factory of the Future Project that brought together several innovations in textile pre-treatment and colouration, set to accelerate the shift from wet to mostly dry processing.
We are witnessing fashion brands increasingly joining Sustainable Development Goals initiatives, where they set targets to significantly reduce carbon and wastewater emissions by 2030. What are your thoughts on this?
Lately, brands have taken an aggressive stance against the textile industry's environmental impact, evident in their corporate declarations. Most responsible leading brands have committed to reducing freshwater consumption, thereby tackling polluting wastewater and cutting emissions. As we head towards 2030, brands are increasingly prioritizing this issue. However, we're still in the early stages, with brands not investing adequately to drive this essential change.
The next decade is absolutely critical; urgent action and investment are paramount to transform this industry. Waiting another ten years will render it too late. The impact of our actions on climate change takes roughly 150 years to manifest in nature. Therefore, immediate action is vital to stabilize our planet over the coming 150 years.
This transformation necessitates a unified effort involving governments setting regulations and standards, alongside brands partnering with innovators through investment. At Alchemie we're determined to bring about this change. But we really need governments and brands on board with us to make this happen in the time that's necessary over the next five to 10 years.
What has been your most memorable moment so far?
When I look back at the last 10 years, there have been numerous highs and quite a few lows—typical in the journey of disrupting an industry like textiles.
If I had to pinpoint a standout moment, one that truly solidified our conviction in changing this industry, it would be when our technology achieved a breakthrough. It was the successful dyeing of an exceptionally thick fleece cotton towel. The result was flawless, surpassing industry expectations and leaving everyone astonished at what we accomplished, the industry. That moment was incredibly reinforcing, affirming that we were on the right path towards transformative change. We got a perfect result that everybody in the industry couldn't believe we managed to do it. And that was probably the reinforcing moment to say, we're on our way.
Lastly, looking ahead, where do you envision the business will be in the next 10 years?
Looking forward, particularly over the next decade, our plans are ambitious. In the coming years, we're geared towards making significant commercial strides, engaging with brands, and implementing our technology across numerous dye houses, particularly in Asia. The deployment of our systems in production factories delivers immediate sustainability benefits. There's no waiting period for returns—the savings and gains are instantaneous once our system is integrated into production.
Within the next five years, I strongly anticipate us becoming the pioneering digital unicorn in the textile industry. Achieving this milestone is just the beginning; it sets the stage for our ongoing commitment to reducing energy consumption and driving clean-tech initiatives in the textile world. At Alchemie Technology, we aspire to establish a textile dyeing factory completely off the grid within the next ten years—a testament to our dedication to sustainable innovation.