Episode 29: Conscious colour, what you need to know about fabric dyes




Fabric Dye, Colour, natural dyes, botanicals, mushrooms, certifications.



Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.


Hello, and welcome to episode 29 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Welcome back to those who have listened in before thank you for choosing to spend some time listening to me. And if this is your first time listening to the podcast welcome! I hope you enjoy today's episode, and you find something inspiring as well.


So today I wanted to talk a little bit about the dye process, and new sustainable developments within this space. I'll talk about three exciting new areas as well as some certifications at the end that you can look out for across the board when asking questions about what dye is being used in your fabrics and materials.


Firstly, there's an area called botanicals or plant based dyes. These include flowers and mushrooms. One way is smaller brands using flowers such as Hollyhock petals, Marigold petals, to use as imprints as an all over pattern. And on a large scale plants are being used as natural dyes. Another plant being used in this area or organism, I guess, is mushrooms. The more I learn about mushrooms, the more I am amazed, is there anything they can't do? Apparently in the 70s this was quite popular and interest is growing again. Craft dyeing is still popular, but brands are exploring how to use this at scale.


The second area that things are being developed in comes from food waste, which is really interesting, either pre consumer or post consumer waste from the food industry. They are are non toxic source and an opportunity to reuse post consumer waste. I've been reading a lot about this on a small scale and have been saving my avocado stones to give it a go at home. There is actually a woman in the UK, Rebecca Desnos, I hope I'm saying that last name right, who has a great ebook on how to do it and prepare the fabric with soy milk. So it can be completely vegan, which I'm yet to try, but essentially you need a natural material, whether that's cotton, linen, wool, etcetera, and natural colour variation is part of the charm. Scaling this up can be tricky, but dye specialist Archroma is offering Earth colours, which is a high performance colour made from food waste. And H&M have also collected coffee grounds to use as the dye in one of their conscious collections.


The third area is based around bacteria, which I find fascinating. I saw a woman the other day who was making artwork out of different bacteria that grows in petri dishes. There's this obsession at the moment with bacteria. But this process is meant to eliminate the need for toxic chemicals and excessive amounts of water. These dyes are grown in a lab and it's dependent on the type of bacteria. So depending on the type of bacteria, you will get different colours. The benefits include no mordants, or additives, and unlike the natural dyes, they aren't reliant on seasons or the need to be harvested. Mordants are things that are applied to fabrics before the dye process to make them stick better and be more colorfast to the fabric. Often these can be quite strong chemicals. But there is also advancements in natural options as well. And the woman I mentioned earlier, Rebecca Desnos, she has a method of using soy milk as a mordant. So even though that's on a smaller scale, it's still making people think about what else they can use. And just staying with the theme of bacteria at the moment, Puma recently collaborated with Living Colour to create a biodegradable collection that used bacteria to colour their garments. This collection covered synthetics, natural fibres and leather. They also chose not to use textile treatment or fixing agents to prolong colour, so that the collection would be designed to fade. This area is still quite innovative and needing more developments to be able to scale. But I imagine a large demand for it once they iron out the details.


So they're are three main areas where people are innovating and changing up sustainable dye methods. The first one being botanicals or plant based. The second one coming from food waste and the third one around bacteria.


But there's one more way you can utilise sustainable colouring or dying I guess and that's if you're using recycled yarn. So when yarns recycled, it's often sorted into rough colour types, and then it's processed before being respun. So this process eliminates the added step of dyeing and the associated resources. Just like natural dyes, there will be colour variations, but I think it's a beautiful way to turn old into new and I guess have some individual character within your garment.


Finally, I know that some of these techniques might be out of reach or not developed enough for you to use yet. So I wanted to mention two certifications that you can request when talking about the dye process. The first most common one is Oeko-Tex 100, which will test for around 100 harmful chemicals including things like arsenic, lead, formaldehyde and pesticides and also test the pH levels are acceptable for the skin. The other is Bluesign, which is where they work at each step in the Textile Supply Chain to approve chemicals, processes, materials and products that are safe for the environment, safe for the workers, and safe for the end customer.


So I hope you found some inspiration in today's episode and also some practical things to look for when you're assessing the dyes used in your products. But I would really encourage you to get familiar with the process and understand the steps that are involved in dyeing your fabrics and garments. That way you can start investigating where you might want to look for alternatives.


That's it for today's episode. If you're not already on the email list and would like to be and know about all the different news in sustainability and fashion. You can sign up for that at belindahumphrey.com. and as always, if you are listening on the go, you'll find all the links and show notes on the website in the podcast section at belindahumphrey.com. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.


Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 



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