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Natural Dyeing – A Fashionable Alternative


Natural dyeing has been serious business for thousands of years. Ancient manuscripts reveal that around 3,000 BC the people of China and India were using plant-based materials to dye their cloth. In 1500 AD, Spanish conquistadors found textile remains in the Americas that had been colored with red extract of the cochonilla. With the invention of the first synthetic dyes in 1856, natural coloring became less popular. In the 1990’s, several countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden began to prohibit the use of chemical dyes in response to environmental damage and consumer health concerns, sparking a renewed interest in natural dyeing.

The use of natural dyes provides a plethora of benefits to suppliers and consumers alike. Natural hues have a beauty and depth of color that cannot quite be replicated with synthetics. Chemical colors tend to be harder and sharper, which means that they must be carefully color matched. In contrast, it is often said that the warm and soothing appearance of natural dyes convey harmony in any combination and become even more beautiful with age.

However, the practical concern of color fastness is an important factor when consider the needs of buyers and designers. Color fastness refers to the resistance of a dye to fade or bleed on a printed textile as well as resistance to various influences such as rubbing, washing, perspiration, etc. to which they are normally exposed in textile manufacturing and in daily use. Innovative textile manufacturers have perfected the natural dyeing process to ensure colour fastness by using natural mordants such as myrobalan, rhubarb leaves, oils, minerals, alum, and iron vat to ensure that colors remain bright and fast.

Many major fashion brands and designers are now taking notice of the natural dyeing process and its benefits. In 2013, denim giant Levi’s announced a partnership with Colors of Nature in order to dye their jeans using plant materials and ancient dye techniques. Indigofera tinctoria, bark of the babul tree and the Indian flower rubia cordifolia are just a few of the plant materials used in the new collection.

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