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KAIKU Living Color

The sustainable plant waste alternative to synthetic colors.

  • KAIKU is a system for creating custom pigments from plant waste.

  • KAIKU's machine vaporizes plant waste dyes and transforms them into dry shelf-stable powders.

    KAIKU's machine vaporizes plant waste dyes and transforms them into dry shelf-stable powders.

  • The result is pigments that can be used in paints and inks, or hydrated into textile dyes.

  • Every batch of natural pigment is unique and based on the growing conditions of the plants used.

  • KAIKU's pigments are biodegradable and easily recyclable - perfect for the Circular Economy!

  • KAIKU's system is an industrially scalable solution – it is a viable alternative to synthetic color.

What it does

KAIKU Living Color is a system that creates colors from plant waste – a sustainable alternative to synthetic colors derived from petroleum. KAIKU transforms waste from everyday foods, like avocados, into a high value resource – pigments you can paint with.

Your inspiration

This project was inspired by studio visits with practicing artists and textile designers. Through these visits, it became clear that artists are worried about the impact of pigments on their health and the environment, yet they often choose to ignore the risks because there are few alternatives to petrochemical colors. Once I dove into color research, I realized natural color used to be pervasive, but with the onset of industrialization, cheap petrochemical colors became the norm. These colors are causing ecological devastation, as pigment waste often leaks into surrounding landscapes, poisoning water and soil for humans and animals.

How it works

KAIKU’s system uses plant waste for color; specifically, the rinds, seeds, and leafy tops of everyday plants such as avocados, onions, and pomegranates. One issue preventing the comeback of natural color is scalability, as dye plants compete with food crops for valuable agricultural land. If we can combine both purposes for food and color-creation, it’s a win-win. KAIKU converts this plant waste into liquid dyes, which are then vaporized and transformed into dry shelf-stable powders suitable for painting. This is achieved with KAIKU’s machine, wherein users simply collect waste, boil them into dyes, and then run the machine to achieve dry pigments within minutes. These pigments can be used in a variety of applications such as printer inks, paints, pen refills, and textile dyes.

Design process

KAIKU is the result of collaborating with artists and scientists to rigorously test and understand natural colors. Though initial material tests and machine iterations were often failures, they gleaned valuable insights that led to its final conclusion: a functional machine for extracting color from plant waste. Initially, I conducted a survey and talked with people to better understand how people understand color and interact with it. I realized most people rarely think about color and few understand the science behind it. This gave me the motivation to change that status quo with KAIKU. In order to understand the science behind color, I shadowed a pigment chemist at the National Gallery and consulted a sustainable paint formulation scientist from Imperial College London. I then immersed myself in natural alternatives, by participating in natural dye workshops. I combined these insights into tangible material tests that tested various extraction methods. This resulted in several color-creating machine prototypes. Finally I interviewed and discussed the pigment properties with two potential users: a textile designer focused on biodegradable yarns, and a contemporary oil painter. They were pleased with the results and hope for future collaborations using the pigments.

How it is different

Most alternatives to petroleum color are still decades away from achieving an industrial scale impact. KAIKU is commercially feasible today, as it utilizes existing waste streams and various industrial technologies. Additionally, KAIKU tackles the serious problem of food waste by transforming unwanted plant parts into valuable paint pigments. The result is a greater appreciation and utilization of vegetables and fruits. Also, KAIKU’s machine will spur a localized color-creation movement. With KAIKU, people can take back control of how their paints are made. Lastly, the pigments can be used in Circular Economy products, as the colors will fade over time and won’t leave harmful residues. As we start to consider the materiality of products for the Circular Economy, we should also start to consider color, and KAIKU can provide the solution.

Future plans

The next steps for KAIKU will be to further the development of the pigments and paint formulations. These pigments will then need to undergo rigorous material testing to understand their properties, strengths, and limitations. Secondly, I will need to improve and optimize the color-creating machine so it is easier to use in a studio environment. Third, I will begin to approach various designers and companies for potential collaboration and investment. Lastly, I will be exhibiting at the London Design Festival in September with Krueger International, and look forward to further opportunities to share the nature of color with the public!


KAIKU Living Color was awarded the Runner-up Prize of the KI Award by Krueger International.

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