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The Importance of Natural Dyes

The Importance of Natural Dyes

You’ve done it. You found a cute top made from natural, organic materials and you’re obviously *thrilled.* But, alas, there’s one more element of your new fit to consider. 


Where did the color come from? Was it dyed naturally, or is there an unpalatable origin story behind the color that caught your eye? The answer isn’t always obvious. Clothing tags aren’t required to disclose dye methods in the same way they disclose materials. 


And, unfortunately, 60 to 70 percent of dyes used in the textile industry rely on synthetic, harmful compounds broadly known as azo dyes. While these dyes yield intense and vibrant colors, they’ve been proven to be carcinogenic and highly toxic. The European Union has taken action to ban the worst offenders under the azo umbrella, but these toxic compounds remain widely used. 


That’s a big bummer for consumers, workers, and the environment. Not only does your skin absorb these harsh substances (as does your watershed), they cause even more acute harm to the individuals and locations where they’re produced. 

 

Hass, Natural Dyes, Organic Cotton, Sustainable Fashion


The Dhaleshwari River in Savar, Bangladesh, is now a lifeless, ink-black waterway after waste from nearby garment factories and dye houses polluted the water. Local residents remember when this river teemed with fish and the shores were a place to grow crops. Then, the factories came and the pollution began. Part of the problem comes from the consistent runoff of factory waste, and it’s worsened by the fashion industry’s proclivity toward pushing new colors every season. Each time a new color is in, factories dump the “old” colors directly into local lakes and rivers to make space for the next trending hue. Thanks to fast fashion, those “seasons” are turning over quicker and quicker, causing chemical dumping at an alarming rate. 


The chemical-laden water is then used to irrigate crops in surrounding areas, which further exposes residents to harm. One recent study found that textile dyes were even present in vegetables and fruit grown in Bangladesh. Those who live in cities like Bangladesh, which is a hub for garment production, have expressed fear and despair about the way chemicals and toxic waste impacts their families' health. Yet, regulations to enforce safer production methods in the fashion industry are notoriously lax. 


Still, there is some good news. While it’s estimated that less than one percent of companies exclusively use natural dyes, the movement is steadily growing. An increasing number of brands — like Hass — are opting for low-impact production techniques that aren’t harmful to people, workers, or the planet, and consumers are creating more demand for organic, non-toxic apparel as eco-education becomes more mainstream. 

 

Hass, Sustainable Fashion, Natural Dyes, Organic Cotton


There are even natural dye houses that boast the ability to find Earth-based elements to match even the brightest Pantones. The downside is these methods come with a high price tag. Since the cost of sustainable fashion is already a barrier for many consumers, most companies pursuing natural methods choose to stick with more accessible natural hues — like slate, rosewater, seafoam, or bone — in an effort to keep their products attainable.


From plants and minerals to fungi, the origin of natural dyes ranges greatly. Companies like Kaiku use food waste to create sustainable dyes while others dive deep into the sea. Regardless of the natural source, naturally dyed apparel is guaranteed to have a better story — and environmental impact — than those made with harmful, toxic dyes.