Sustainable Coloring: Dyeing without harming

Jul 20, 2019 | News

Summer is here and with it, the return of more vibrant, colorful garments. Bright yellows, pinks, or blues are all over the place, and while these colors brighten up the streets, it is actually to the great displeasure of Mother Nature. The process of dyeing, transforming dreary clothes into intensely hued garments, is indeed extremely harmful to our planet.

This article will give you some insights into the dyeing industry and the alternatives to conventional techniques via the new coloring movement. 

Chemical Dyes 

Chemical dyes are man-made and derived from petrochemicals. Most synthetic dyes contain dioxins, highly toxic components that can cause reproductive and developmental problems, hormonal disruptions and immune system damages. Some toxic heavy metals such as mercury, copper, or chromium are also generally found in synthetic dyes. Azo dyes, the most common type of dyes, often contain formaldehyde, a mutagenic and carcinogenic agent.

Every year, between 40.000 and 50.000 tons of dye are leaked into the world’s water systems. Out of all the industries, the garment industry is the largest polluter of water. Annually, an estimated 60 to 70% of the dyes used have toxic effects on plants and humans. The toxins have been linked to birth defects, cancer, and death in animals and plants. During the process of dyeing, a considerable amount of dye is rendered and is dumped in local water sources. Consequently, roughly 17 to 20% of industrial water pollution is caused by the dyeing process alone, making chemical dyeing the largest environmental hazard in many countries. The chemicals contained in dyes have an effect on the health of not only the workers who handle them but also on the local populations who are affected through land and water pollution. In some countries across Asia, it is common for rivers and lakes to be dyed red or green as a result of illegal chemical dumping. The chemicals released in watercourses are harmful to marine life, the ecosystem on land, and can cause direct damage to populations living in close proximity to the water source. In Indonesia, while chemicals are daily discarded in the Citarum River, one kilo of chemicals for each kilo of textiles produced, the river is still used by 35 million people as a drinking source.

Natural Dyes

To address the issue of pollution and waste of water, many clothing brands have promoted raising awareness on the effects of the garment industry on the environment. This movement had led to brands opting for natural dyes and cooperating with factories to lessen the effects of the apparel industry on the planet. Natural dyes have become the obvious solution to tackle the issue of environmental degradation. 

Made from natural ingredients, plants, animals, or minerals, natural dye producers create an alternative to chemical dyes, which has been increasingly popular as more consumers become aware of the effects their clothes on the environment. Natural dyes are made from various plant-based, mineral, and animal products, including wood, bark, berries, lichen, roots, flowers, leaves, nuts, and seeds as well as insects, shellfish and mineral compounds.

The techniques used to process these dyes include the usage of a mordant. A mordant is a chemical ingredient needed for the colors from the plants to bond with the fibers of the fabric. Mordants are usually acids or metal salts such as aluminum ammonium or copper sulfate. Some dyes, called substantive dyes, like safflower or cochineal, don’t need a mordant because they naturally contain one, usually tannin.

The fabrics that need to be dyed are usually simmered in a mordant solution before the dyeing process begins.

The main problem of natural dyes is that they are not scalable as they are used mostly with traditional methods and with products that are not found in abundance in nature. Another disadvantage of natural dyes is that they’re usually less reliable than synthetic ones and are polychromatic: depending on the type of fabric or the mordant used, the color can change.

Natural Dye House Fabrics

To offer a viable solution, Andriana Landegent, founder of Ecologic Republic, based in The Netherlands, developed a new project. With her three partners based in India, she created Natural Dye House Fabrics, a company developing natural dyes on an industrial scale.

The company works on different levels: They offer naturally dyed fabrics, can produce private label garments, have their own brand, and can locally dye some fabrics. 

The brand developed by NDH is called Wholi, a babywear brand for higher income people, entirely organic from fabrics to dyes. The team works in order to ensure sustainability, transparency, and traceability. Circularity is also an important aspect of the project: Textiles scraps are reused to produce smaller items and recycling is a crucial part of the process.

The idea behind the Natural Dye House project is to offer a real alternative to conventional dyeing processes. In order to achieve a global use of natural dyes, it needs to be scalable, reliable and to have a reasonable price. The process has been thought of as a totally new approach of natural dyeing, setting aside the traditional techniques to develop new ones adapted to industrial requirements. 

The process at NDH is fully scalable: The company uses abundant, non-food or by-products ingredients such as pomegranate rind, marigold flowers, or lac insects.

Natural Dye House offers a totally sustainable solution. The fabrics and dyes are organic, 100% chemical-free and traceable, so you always know where the products come from. They can be natural, such as organic cotton, wool or vegan wool, or modified like hemp, bamboo or lyocell. NDH can also work with reclaimed fabrics: nylon, PET, cotton or polyester.

There are currently 50 different colors available but the color range is expanding and NDH offers the possibility to create unique colors. 

The dyeing itself can be performed on different levels. The technique can be applied to yarn, fabrics, or already made clothes.

You can find more information about the dyes, fabrics and the project itself on the profile of Ecologic Republic BV.

Read more: 

To Dye For: Textile Processing’s Global Impact

Synthetic Dye’s Impact on the Environment

How Chemical Dyes are Harmful to Workers in Developing Nations

Chemical and Synthetic Dyes