Nature’s Best: Why We Use Natural Dyes
There’s something special that connects the deep blues of our Indigo Nights collection with the sunset yellows and pinks of Haldi: they have all been created using the power of plants.
We started on our natural dyes journey right back in the summer of 2020, when we began exploring how we could design and create in ways that were the least harmful to people and our planet. If we were aspiring to become a truly sustainable brand, we needed to think about how our products would be made from start to finish.
Using organically grown cotton was only part of the answer. Once we had sourced our organic yarns, we were left with the problem of how to dye our fibres and create the colours we wanted to use in our products. How could we achieve beautiful colours without turning to environmentally damaging dyes?
Why Synthetic Dyes Are A Problem
Many of the clothes we wear get their hue from synthetic dyes. In fact, approximately 10,000 different synthetic dyes are used to create our clothes across the fashion industry, as they are easy and cheap to produce. Of these, Azo-dyes are by far the most commonly used type of dye.
So what’s the problem? Azo-dyes have been proven to be carcinogenic and mutagenic (where they permanently disrupt the DNA in a cell). Banned in the EU due to their toxicity, they are still used in clothing production throughout much of the world, and can be found in more than half of the world’s annual textiles production.
And the damage doesn’t stop there. Vast amounts of these toxins run into fresh water systems in the dyeing process. As they cannot biodegrade or break down, these toxins contaminate local water supplies, cause health problems and have a devastating impact on aquatic life. Tragically, the process of colour-treating fibres with synthetic dyes and chemicals causes nearly 20% of global water pollution.
What Are Natural Dyes?
Natural dyes are centuries-old colourants derived from plants and minerals, fruits and other food. Although synthetic dyes are now the industry norm, plant based dyes were the main source of dye for clothing until the 19th century.
To us, it seemed a simple choice… We would only use Azo-free dyes, or even better, we would work with the local community to source non-toxic, natural and botanical ingredients. And so began our natural dye journey!
Five Reasons Why We Love Natural Dyes
🤍no nasty chemicals
🤍don’t contaminate waterways
🤍supports local producers
What We Have Learnt About Natural Dyes
Working with the craftswomen of Thanapara, we started experimenting using locally grown dye ingredients like turmeric, kahir bark, indigo and many more. Natural dyes are notoriously difficult to use, as there are so many natural variables that affect the consistency, longevity and vibrancy of the colours. Crop-to-crop and season-to-season, each plant-based dye will behave entirely differently, with humidity levels and the amount of sunshine impacting how the colour of the dye will turn out.
As a brand, this makes it challenging for us to perfectly standardise our colours, but it also means that each piece we create is beautifully unique and even more special.
In the end, it took over a year of developing the colour palette with our artisans, and a lot of trial and error along the way. Many colours started out quite sludgy looking, but after round upon round of tweaks, the dye masters finally perfected their recipes to create a spectrum of vibrant and beautiful hues. The same hues that you can see on your Heirloom pieces today!
Using natural dyes truly feels like a partnership with Mother Nature herself, and both we and our artisan partners have learnt to embrace the magical unpredictability of plant-based dyes!
“We have gained so much from this journey exploring natural dyes with Heirloom, we never believed that we were able to achieve such a wide range of colours. We are now able to use these skills and knowledge when working with our other clients too. It has become a learning and sharing process!”
Meet our first natural dye collections: Indigo Nights and Haldi