Natural dyes come from plants, some invertebrates or minerals. For reasons of accessibility, most come from plants. Roots, fruits, leaves and barks can be use as dye matter. Natural dyes can also be extracted from some fungi and lichens.
The earliest traces of the use of natural dyes were found in China in the year 2600 BC. Later, colored pigments were found in Egypt in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Alexander the Great mentioned purple clothing in 541 BC.
Some natural dyes were a consider a luxury because of the difficulty of obtaining the material to produce them. The purple color, for example, was extracted from a mollusk and was very complex to obtain. It was estimated that 8,500 molluscs were needed to produce one gram of dye. Due to the complexity of the creation of the dye, its price was higher to gold.
In the current era, the fashion industry uses synthetic dyes for massive production processes that pollute the environment. According to a report from the University of Cambridge, the process of dyeing an average T-shirt uses between 16 and 20 liters of water. 80% of the dye remains in the shirt while the rest is discarded. The global textile industry discards between 40,000 and 50,000 tons of dyes in the water system. In Europe 200,000 tons or salt are throw away annually.
In recent decades the synthetic dyes industry has attempted to improve health, safety and environmental conditions to reduce the negative impact. However, there are still companies that work with carcinogenic dyes that not only harm their workers, but also the end customers.
We have before us a crisis as a result of the massive production and consumption of clothing at the expense of the environment and textile employees, who are not only under very poor working conditions, but their lives are in danger by being in contact with toxic dyes and fibers. It is up to all of us to change this reality, by supporting brands, designers and local crafters who work with low impact dyes and natural dyes who take care for the environment and above want to end harmful supply chains.
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Veronica Buitron - Founder and Product Designer at Suspiro