It has become a sad joke in the fashion industry, that if you want to see what colors are trending for the season, just look at the color of the river next to your garment factories. As fashion is finally working to make changes to be more ethical and sustainable, the textile dyeing process is one of the biggest areas with cause for concern. The standard dyeing process requires tons of water, energy, and chemicals. In response, the Chinese government has been cracking down and "in the summer of 2017, tens of thousands of China’s factories were forced to close and undergo environmental inspections." (Melody M. Bomgardner) In fact, "60% of China’s denim-dyeing chemical capacity has been shuttered, equal to roughly 30% of global capacity." Dalton Cheng says, Cheng heads a digital textile printing facility which offers a great alternative to reducing chemical and water waste, but we were curious what natural dyeing options there might be. We are introducing the alternative options to dye textile in the sustainable ways which focusing on the way to reduce use of chemicals.
Why Natural Dyeing?
"Historical records of the use of natural dyes extracted from vegetables, fruits, flowers, certain insects and fish dating back to 3500 BC have been found" (Rita Kant). "Waste chemicals from the dyes themselves are often highly toxic - Azo dyes which account for 60-70 per cent of all dyes used become carcinogenic when broken down and metabolized - and the fixing agents used which can contain formaldehyde and chlorine compounds, are no better, with links to allergies and cancer, are not only hazardous to humans but also to the environment." (Chris Knowles). So when these harsh chemicals then end up in the local water supply, it endangers the people of our community, the sea life, and ultimately all of us.
1 | Natural Dyeing Method
Nature actually provides plenty of natural options for rich vibrant colors and finishing options. "Rather than using harsh chemicals to soften and finish the fabric a finish made of bees wax, Aloe Vera and Vitamin A are a good alternative."(Rita Kant). And in this quick reference from Food 52, you can see an array of natural ingredients that produce beautiful color options.
2 | Oxygen Based Bleaching Method
"Chlorine bleach" contains toxic to customers and the environment but it is still used to bleach material. The alternative option of that could be oxygen-based (hydrogen peroxide). Some of the factories already have started to use ozone. "This technology relies on cool water rather than having to maintain the fabric in a hot water bath for many hours. The ozone breaks down into water and oxygen in waste water." (Rita Kant)
3 | DyeCoo Waterless Dyeing Method
"DyeCoo works by pressurizing and heating carbon dioxide to above 31.1 degrees Celsius (about 88 Fahrenheit), the temperature at which it becomes "super critical," a phase between a liquid and a gas.; The CO2 is then cleaned and 95 percent is recycled back into the machine to be reused." DyeCoo does not just save water and chemicals. Because DyeCoo’s approach is waterless, fabrics don’t need to be dried, speeding up the dyeing process by 40% and cutting energy use by 60%" explains Lauren Phipps of the Green Biz Group. "Since 2013, Nike, Ikea, and Adidas are using this method to reduce toxicity and intensity of clothing." (Lauren Phipps)
4 | Bacteria Dyeing Method
The BBC found that over 8,000 chemicals have been found in the dyeing process, many of which are carcinogenic and hazardous to health, but not when you use bacteria. Synthetic biologist Orr Yarkoni is working on this through his company Colorfix where they "engineer microorganisms using DNA to convert agricultural byproducts into dyes. The organisms themselves can be grown, or fermented, once the DNA code for the necessary colourant has been implanted and this natural reproduction is fast and efficient." Basically they grow bacteria and replicate their naturally occurring color to use less water and chemicals but in a very smart nature inspired way.
If you want even more tips, resources, and news on building a brand for people, planet, and profit, subscribe to our newsletter today!