In our last article, we mentioned our last experiment with natural dyes. Today I want to express my opinion on the topic, as this question comes back often: Is it possible to dye our fabrics with natural dyes?
A historical standpoint…
Nowadays, most fabrics used worldwide are dyed with synthetic dyes. We must note that this is a very recent acknowledgment, and synthetic dyes came about as an answer to the growing demand of the industry. The main reasons for this are:
1/ They’re cheaper
2/The colors obtained can be more precise and offer the reliability the industry needs.
3/They tend to last much longer in the wash (regular washing machine and dryer).
4/ They allow us to dye synthetic fabrics as well (polyester, acrylic and other polyamides)
Therefore, most of these dyes are carbon based (hello petroleum) and the process is extremely damageable as it implies a hefty cocktail of chemical products. In Asia, it is said that the next color in trend can be guessed by the color of the rivers and water sources. Gross!
[ Credit Dave Hoefler ]
We seem to easily forget that what is damageable for the environment is just as dangerous for us. The clothes are in direct contact with our skin, the body’s most expansive organ. Our skin is porous and absorbs this suspicious mixture of products. In Canada, certain products were banned from being used by dyers, as they are too dangerous and potentially carry carcinogens.
Natural dyes, on the other hand, offer a very diverse color palette, but the technics are much more complex. They take time, and the colors could change with light exposure, with time and in the wash. This is an extremely poetic factor in my opinion, but also incredibly difficult to orchestrate on an industrial level. Let’s be real though, in the ever-expanding logic of our capitalist society, this doesn’t make any sense.
Even with the world’s most eco-friendly vision, going back to natural dyes at a global scale would be unthinkable. Mainly because these techniques require tremendous amounts of water and coloring matter (leaves, flowers, bark, earth, roots…). Furthermore, dye fixatives are used to set the dye on the fabric, some of which can be damageable for the environment.
Therefore, everything seems to be a matter of scale. In a completely opposite logic, if we took a few steps back, natural dyes could reclaim their worth and prestige.
On a much smaller scale, it would be entirely possible to create naturally dyed products.
What about the industrial level?
[ Credit Natalia Y ]
No miraculous solution exists, but at Montloup, we choose to work with a local dye house: Ajax Textile. Based in Ontario, Ajax Textile has long since been sensitive to ecological preoccupations. In the last 60 years, they’ve installed a wastewater recycling and management policy. They’ve also worked hard on minimizing their energy consumption and chose to use chemical products that do not damage the environment.We also prioritise natural-colored textiles in most of our development research.
The marvellous stripes we created using Sally Fox’s yarn also offer an interesting avenue, as the color comes directly from the cotton itself. We can obtain pale pinks, greens and browns this way. View article – As we Strive to do Better.
The most important part of our process is that we encourage buyers to buy less, but better, and to aim on clothing that will stand the test of time.
For those who wish to buy from large distribution chains, it is advised to look at their certifications regarding chemical product use. The Eko-Tex Standard 100 label ensures that the chemical products used during the fabrication process (from the thread to the product) are not damageable for the environment and its’ inhabitants.
For smaller businesses that don’t have the means to invest in these certifications (such as Montloup), you can write to these companies directly and ask for more information regarding the origin of the fabric.