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How Dyeing Textiles With Plants Is Making Fashion More Sustainable

Melissa Hargus, CEO and Creative Director of Soul Studio an ethically made natural dyed clothing store said that her family has always been eco-conscious, and added that when they found out how horrible synthetic dyes are they made the switch to natural dyes. Now, four years later, dyeing with plants is their full-time job, and they have expanded their product line to include zero-waste accessories and gifts.

Hargus said that “plant based dyes is a really ancient art that has been revitalized in the past few years,” and has become more popular among sustainable fashion designers due to the eco-safe practice that many designers have adopted in an effort to have ethics overs aesthetics. Dyeing with plants is not a recent trend and has been around for over 400 years. In Japan, traditional Shibori is the act of dyeing with indigo plants that requires a fermentation process to allow the plant to naturally produce a blue dye. Through trade, this technique of twisting, tying, and dyeing fabric was spread amongst travelers and they brought the technique back home with them. Now the technique of dyeing with plants can be seen across nations with varying styles and craft.

Modern plant dye typically consists of bathing the fabric in a natural dye bath, while some incorporate Shibori techniques for other abstract pieces.
In Austin, Texas there are three local sustainable clothing stores that sell pieces dyed with plants: Esby, Soul Studio, and Miranda Bennett Studio. Many plant dye clothing brands only sell online, however, these three local stores, Colorant in New York, and Juniperous in Montana have physical storefronts.

Across the US there is multiple plant dye suppliers, and a couple of commercial plant dye facilities with physical storefronts. Many of these workshops share the craft of dyeing with plants so that people can learn about the culture behind it and how to do it themselves. Locally, the Austin School of Fiber Arts teaches students about different fiber arts such as dyeing with plants.

Lynne Brotman, fiber artist and Executive Director of the Austin School of Fiber Arts teaches a workshop on Shibori that allows students to better understand the culture and tradition of this craft. “We are trying to keep these fiber arts alive, and the techniques of Shibori from dying” said Brotman, because many of these fiber arts such as traditional Shibori has become commercialized. The Shibori print has been screen printed on many home decor items such as these pillows, instead of it being crafted by hand. Even though many cultures have been dyeing with plants for centuries, their craft and style has been commercialized with the invention of azo synthetic dyes that are chemically made and are known to be carcinogenic. Such as, blue jeans that were traditionally dyed with indigo plants but most mass-production companies have switched to cheaper synthetic dyes.

Although, Fast-fashion brands became successful with the demand for trendy clothes “Data shows that customers are also increasingly driven to buy sustainable products. While the demand for fast fashion hasn’t completely dissipated, it’s clear that retailers need to adapt..” according to Vox Media. Natalia Trevino, CEO of Natalia Trevino Amaro a sustainable slow fashion brand said she focuses her efforts on having “quality over quantity.” Trevino said that it can be easy to get caught up in social media, and understands why people want to buy trendy clothes, but added that it’s important to be conscious of how the clothes were made. This is what convinced Trevino to pursue her own sustainable clothing brand in hopes that consumers will be “more mindful in their purchases,” and what they are putting on their bodies. Trevino exclaimed that she wants to start incorporating plant dye into her brand in the future, because in “upcycling terms [she] has a lot of fabrics that [she] thinks would look better in different colors,” and it would help her reduce less waste, such as dyeing with avocados or plants.

The avocado skin and pit alone create a natural pink dye without the use of any mordant. Below is a step-by-step process following Lindsey Foust’s how to tie dye with avocados // easy natural dye tutorial YouTube video:

Fast-fashion brands are in high demand, however, more and more consumers are becoming aware of the ethical problems with fast fashion. Such as how the clothes are dyed with toxic cariogenic chemicals, and according to  Fashion Revolution, only 2% of garment workers around the world receive a livable wage. These concerns have made big brands like Nike, choose more ethical and sustainable practices such as dyeing their sneakers with plants. 

The demand for sustainability is growing as many brands have started to include more ethical practices. Plant dye is a start for many brands to make the switch to fight conventional normalities of dyeing with toxic synthetic dyes.

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