Sustainability through Natural Dyes

Sustainability through Natural Dyes

As the word natural implies, natural dyes are dyes from our mother earth, derived from plants, invertebrates or minerals from the earth. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources which include roots, berries, bark, leaves and wood.

Throughout history, people have dyed their textiles with whatever flora and fauna available to them locally. The art of making vegetable dyes is one of the oldest known to man and dates back to the dawn of Civilization. In India, it was widely used for colouring of fabrics and other materials. With the experimentation and gradual development the vegetable dyes had resulted into a highly refined art. India's expertise in vegetable dyes dates back to ancient times. Using mordants to hold fast the dye or resists to selectivity prevent them from touching the cloth were printed bales of whisper soft textiles. From 15th to 19th centuries, block printed resist dyed textiles from Gujarat and Deccan adorned Europeans and their homes.

The discovery of synthetic or man made dyes in the mid 19thcentury  decrease use of natural dyes as the synthetic dyes were readily available and could be produced in large quantities. Though they were visibly harsher, it displaced the centuries-old traditions of natural dyeing almost everywhere Synthetic dyes and chemicals used in manufacturing process are also known to be highly toxic to the environment and carcinogenic. A sustained process that took several centuries and a substantial investment, the practice of natural dyeing in India, and the cultivation of dye-bearing plants, once significant parts of India’s economic activity slowly died out. With the traditions went the treasury of knowledge and skill painstakingly accumulated through constant practice and incremental addition over generations from master to apprentice, father to son.

Natural Dyes are a renewable source and contribute to rural economic development. However in most commercial applications, natural dyes cannot compete with synthetic dyes that are available in more vibrant colours, more uniform in composition and do not fade easily. But today with conscious consumers and sustainability being the main mantra for sustenance, the ancestral know-how of natural dyeing is slowly gaining hold as an important art for sustainable fashion industry. Lately, natural dyes have seen a resurgence in the fashion industry as consumers are becoming more and more conscious about the harmful effects of the synthetic dyes both on our planet and its people.

To promote a clean environment and safety to the manufacture and users of textile products promotion of the concept of eco friendly textiles is the need of the hour. This concept is based on the cradle-to grave approach i.e. it analysis entire life cycle of production distribution andutilization and disposal after use (Subramanian and Phalgunani, 1995). In this context, natural dyes should be promoted but with a word of caution (Chavan, 1995) to keep the revival activities for natural dyes to a limited scale in order to maintain the balance between environment and trade. Any literature related to sustainable development refers or begins with the definition of sustainable development, which was defined as, ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ in Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, which was written in 1987 (World Commission on Environment and Development (1987).

There is an urgent need to address this issue of the fashion industry monstrously over consuming and degrading the environment with non degradable and toxic raw materials. Consumers need to be educated about these negative impacts of the fashion industry and must demand accountability and responsibility from manufacturers or retail brands to implement sustainable alternative practices. When this is done one garment at a time, we will be able to help make fashion, a force not for less bad but a force for good.

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