Natural plant dyed clothing is almost unheard of in the sustainable fashion industry and definitely excluded from fast fashion as a whole. But the true cost of our clothing’s bright colours are vast. And since time immortal, natural dyes have offered a safer and more sustainable options. By drawing colour from minerals, bugs, and plants while protecting the planet in the process of creation.
HARMFUL EFFECTS OF DYES IN TEXTILE INDUSTRY ON HUMANS
Most of the clothing we wear gets its vibrant colours from synthetic dyes, made with the help of non-renewable resources like petroleum and coal which in their creation and use, contribute to global warming and climate breakdown.
Colouring fabric is an incredibly resource-intensive process, releasing 70+ toxic chemicals into the water supply, including known carcinogens that poison the living planet’s soil, water, and air, increasing risk of cancers onto its inhabitants.
Using these chemical dyes in our clothing and textiles is yet another form of environmental racism, as the majority of the people directly affected by the poisons the fashion and textile industries emit, are low-income, minority communities, working for slave wages to make the products we frivolously purchase. Begging to question whether clothing dyed with anything but plant-dyes is truly ethical or sustainable (it’s not).
Textile dye is the second-largest polluter of clean water globally, after conventional agriculture; however, there are simple solutions to the problem in most of our backyards and on our farmlands. If the garments are dyed with plant materials created with regeneratively farmed cultivations that regenerate the soil, then the dye not only halts harm but also contributes to carbon drawdown, reversing global heating and preventing climate breakdown.
Some of the colours on the natural dye wheel even make use of potential food waste diverting it from the landfill to be put to positive use. Reduced food waste is the THIRD most effective way of reversing global warming, according to Project Drawdown, adding yet another positive to the practice. This type of production would difficult to implement on a mass scale, but large scale systems are part of the problem with the ethics and sustainability of the fashion and textile industry as a whole. This is one of many reasons I believe that supporting small businesses who are actively investing in truly ethical and spectacularly sustainably supply chains, encourages a future for fashion which does more good than harm, leaving the planet better off for the fact that it’s occurred.
CLOTHING CREATED WITH PLANT-BASED NATURAL DYES
This regenerative brand, which includes women’s clothing, homeware, accessories, beauty products, books is cureated exclusively undyed or naturally dyed, organically grown, natural fibers, Houseworks Store works with transparent textile supply chain to ensure their clothing is circularly ethical and sustainable full-circle, free of polyester, nylon, or polycore stitching, free of synthetic elastics, and no chemical finishing. For their homeware, they ensure each piece is free of plastics and petrochemicals right down to the dyes, glues, resins, and coatings. All of their ceramics are lead and cadmium free, made with a natural mineral glaze. Their body care line, Haeckles, is entirely free of plastic-packaging, and their soaps, include climate beneficial pastured tallow, as well as single-origin, locally sourced, organic true extra virgin olive oil, seaweeds, and salt. WHERE TO BUY? housework.store
Using plant dyes created from the cultivations of Free Verse Farm, Earthen Warrior creates clothing, homeware and sleep masks from upcycled cashmere, silk, and vintage one-of-a-kind textiles. She also offers natural dye classes in New York, spreading the green colour wheel beyond her own work. WHERE TO BUY?earthenwarrior.com/
The organic cotton used to make Monsoon Blooms’ underwear and apparel is sprouted from non-GMO cotton seeds on small farms across India through Chetna Organic, who is dedicated to improving the livelihoods of small scale farmers by helping them convert to organic ecological agriculture practices. The cotton is then processed and knitted into bolts of fabric by Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade International, and Social Accountability International (SAI), Rajlakshmi Cotton Mill (RCM). The fabric is then dyed with medicinal plants foraged from deep in the forest of Kerala, using the ancient dyeing technique of Ayurvastra. Over 1200 medicinal plants contribute to the rainbow of pastel colours on offer at the dye-house, many of which are grown in their own backyard. After the dye is fixed and dried, our newly coloured organic cotton is ready for stitching into underwear and apparel at an ethical and fairtrade factory which offers interest-free loans to their workers to pay for life’s big expenses like building a home, hosting a marriage, educating their children and arranging medical treatment for their employees’ family, as well as a pension fund and state insurance. WHERE TO BUY? monsoonblooms.com
Canadian brand, Weft End, creates its collections with 100 natural, chemical-free, plant-based dyes cultivated through organic agriculture. No chemicals or bleach every touches the products they sell. To create a gorgeous clean and bright white, the ecru cotton threads go through a hot saltwater process to brighten the natural colour of the fabric. Each piece is hand-loomed using a traditional shuttle loom and made 100% G.O.T.S. Certified Organic Cotton sourced in Turkey. WHERE TO BUY?weftend.com
Mara Vera collaborates with master artisans in Gujarat and Rajasthan and works with locally sourced materials to deliver high quality, hand made textiles. All Mara Vera textiles are handwoven on pit-looms and hand block printed with natural and azo-free dyes, Pomegranate peels, Marigold flowers, Madder roots, jaggery, horseshoe nails, guar gum, red kasis, natural minerals are some of the sources used to create dyes used for printing Mara Vera scarves. To set up the pit loom, it takes five days to wrap more than 8,000 locally sourced cotton yarns around the wooden pegs. Then starched cotton warps are stretched across the loom and interwoven with carefully selected silk yarns to create each signature cotton scarf. Once woven, each piece is block printed by hand, then soaked in hot water and dipped in Harda paste before being laid in the sun to dry. WHERE TO BUY?maravera.co.uk
Every aspect of Sustain By Kat‘s creation is as sustainable as currently possible, with a collection that is created both ethically and sustainably in Los Angeles from 100% natural organic fibres, including her organic cotton thread and labels. Her pieces are either left undyed or dyed with natural plant dyes from Botanical Colors or Aura Herbal Wear which are organic and locally sourced, making them free of harmful chemical whiteners, optical brighteners or industrial fabric softeners. WHERE TO BUY?sustainbykat.com
With a mission to bring change, awareness and education to the issues within the fashion industry, Hara The Label is creating ethical, plant-dyed underwear and loungewear using bamboo fabric (I don’t normally recommend bamboo, but they are one of the few brands creating body inclusive undies, and say it is created in a closed-loop system). They use a portion of their profits to support the Environmental Justice Foundation who are working to irradicate environmental and human rights abuses, giving a voice to the voiceless. WHERE TO BUY?harathelabel.com/
The creator of Kakaw Designs, Mari, was born in Guatemala and returned to volunteer for non-profit organizations in indigenous areas. From her experiences, she found that providing long-lasting change within the country by providing meaningful work, rather than charity, created meaningful, longer-lasting change from within the country. So she created Kakaw in an effort to meet meaning with action, supporting talented traditional textile artisans in Guatemala to create handmade textile and leather products made from woven natural products, embroidery, and natural plant dyes. WHERE TO BUY? kakawdesigns.com
Slow Fashion brand Gaia, focuses on organic material, mindful energy supply, and artisan quality goods and services for their creation. Observing every step of the creation of a garment, from seed to shirt. They use locally produced (USA) certified organic fabrics and a mix of natural and low impact fibre reactive dye colours. They create their collection made-to-order to reduce waste and energy, and have hired a team of artisans to cut, sew, and dye each garment by hand in their North Carolina studio. WHERE TO BUY? gaiaconceptions.com
Carrying Pendleton’s new ‘eco-wise’ collection which is made in ‘America’ with renewable wool and natural plant dyes. It’s certified by the Cradle-To-Cradle Products Innovation Institute, an independent nonprofit that’s developed manufacturing standards around renewability, sustainability, and social welfare. Even better, each Eco-Wise blanket, throw and sham is machine washable, designed to hold its rich colour and soft texture through every wash. WHERE TO BUY? /buymeonce.com
Azura bay carries natural vegan vegetable dyed non-GMO organic cotton yoga pants, bras and pjs in a range of beautiful colours. Unlike most yoga apparel, the stretch in the clothing is made from spandex which is thiuram and caba-free. WHERE TO BUY? azurabay.ca