Natural dyes were widely utilised to make beautiful, brilliantly coloured garments and fabrics until the invention of synthetic dyes in the mid-1800s. Natural dyes were phased out of the fashion business as the industrial revolution gained hold, as synthetic dyes were cheaper and faster to make at scale.

However, synthetic dyes' detrimental societal and environmental effects have only recently come to light as a result of the poisonous by-products they create. Could organically dyed clothing be a long-term answer, and what are natural dyes, exactly?
In this blog article, we'll talk about what constitutes a natural dye, the types of plants used to make different natural dyes, and the communities that benefit from the process.

The Different Types of Dyes Used in Fabric Manufacturing

Natural Colors

Natural dyes or colourants are dyes or colourants that come from animals, plants, or minerals. The bulk of organic dyes is made from biological sources, including trees, flowers, vegetables, and fungus.

Before the invention of synthetic dyes, people had to do whatever they could find in nature if they wanted to colour clothes, textiles, or even ink. According to research, the natural dyeing of fabrics using plant dyes may have been practised as far back as the Neolithic period.

Natural colours are biodegradable, non-toxic, and non-allergenic, making them safer for the environment and usage around people because they lack carcinogenic components present in many synthetic dyes.

Synthetic Colors

Synthetic dyes, unlike natural dyes, were invented in the 1850s and are made up of chemical compounds rather than naturally occurring components.

Mercury, copper, lead, benzene, and sodium chloride are compounds used in synthetic colours. These dyes are simple to mass-produce, and they may be used to create a wide spectrum of brilliant colours.

Synthetic dye, however, contains damaging chemicals that are poisonous to humans and can lead to hazardous working conditions in textile manufacturers and toxic contamination in the environment.

Dyes with a Low Environmental Impact

A low-impact dye has been designated as environmentally benign by the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (an international certification process).

To be considered eco-friendly, they must not include any hazardous chemicals or mordants (which are used to bond the dye to the cloth) and have a high absorption rate of above 70%. There is less water waste from rinse water when high absorption rate.

Low-impact dyes are environmentally beneficial, but they aren't completely free of environmental harm because they aren't created exclusively from natural sources. They can, however, provide a more environmentally friendly alternative to synthetically coloured apparel.

Some of the Most Common Plants Used in Natural Dyeing

Plants gathered to produce plant dyes are also used for a range of other purposes in the community. This frequently implies that natural dyeing has no waste because the local population uses all portions of the plant for cooking and medicinal and extracting colour, which is a win-win situation!

Indigo

Indigo is derived from the leaves of the actual indigo plant, Indigofera Tinctoria, and is one of the most widely used natural colours. Its appeal stems from the fact that it is light-fast, which means it will not fade, and it does not require the dye material to be treated beforehand.

This plant thrives in the tropical climate, and it's common in places like India and Southeast Asia, where it's hot and humid. The leaves must be fermented in jars for about ten days to extract the dye, and the residue is processed into a powerful indigo powder.

Other local applications for the indigo plant include:
•    Brewing indigo tea from the leaves and stems.
•    Preparing edible indigo powder for use in sauces and seasonings.
•    Utilising the plant in herbal medicine because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Myrobalan

Myrobalan, also known as Terminalia Chebula, is a deciduous tree native to Asia that may be found across the Himalayan area. The dried fruits, which may be crushed into a powder and used to make a buttery yellow dye, contain the dye produced from this tree.

This tannin-rich dye can also be used as a mordant, allowing the cloth to absorb colour more readily in the dye bath. It works best on organic fabrics manufactured from natural fibres, such as organic cotton, as do most natural colours.

Because of its emollient characteristics, the myrobalan herb is also utilised in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to maintain a healthy digestive tract.

Barks of trees

Tree barks may be harvested from various plants and trees, particularly those high in flavonoids and tannins, and can be used to dye garments in a variety of dark colours.

Barks of coconuts

Coconut bark yields a pinkish-brown coloured cloth when used in botanical dyeing. The plant fibres are cleaned, steeped, and cooked for 2-3 hours to extract the colour. It's recommended to use it on natural materials like organic cotton because it's a plant dye.

The dried husk of the coconut tree is also used as fuel in local communities, and the husk is woven into ropes and carpets. The coconut tree's fruit is widely consumed, and old coconut shells can even be composted.

Tamarind Velvet

The velvet tamarind tree, also known as Dialium Guineense, has bark that may be used for natural dyeing. This tree is a huge, long-lived evergreen native to Southeast Asia that provides earthy tones in dyed fabrics like burnt sienna or muted brown.

Tamarind seedpods have a naturally high tannin content – up to 20% in certain situations – making them another excellent source for colour extraction.

The velvet tamarind bark and leaves also have therapeutic characteristics and are used locally to treat various ailments, such as lowering bodily aches and inflammation.

Incindium Oroxylum

The Oroxylum Incindium tree is a small to medium-sized tree native to tropical Asia and southern China. Because of how the branches and pods are shed from the tree, it is known as the 'Midnight Horror' and 'Broken Bones Plant.'

This tree's bark may be used to make dye, and various tree sections are utilised in traditional medicine in the area. It also contains huge leaves and delicious yellow and red blooms, commonly used in Thai and Laotian cuisine.

Skins and Berries of Pomegranates

For millennia, pomegranate peel has been used as a traditional way for colouring fabrics and textiles; it is one of the oldest fruits in agriculture. Its dye contains a lot of tannins, so it's good for organic cotton and other organic fibres, but it may also be used to dye wool and silk.

When used without a mordant, Pomegranate dye produces a creamy yellow colour, but the colour transitions to a more golden tone when a caustic is added. You may even over-dye it with indigo to create lovely dark greens as a final result.

Pomegranate flesh is also used to make juice and can even be transformed into grenadine syrup, making it a zero-waste fruit with various applications.

Garcinia Dulcis

Garcinia Dulcis is a tropical fruit tree. The tree is gathered in the wild for medicine, dyeing materials, and food nearby.

The tree's bark may be used to make a lovely green dye that looks great on organic materials like silk. It's also a versatile ingredient: when combined with indigo, it produces brown-coloured apparel.

A New Golden Age Dawns for Natural Plant Dyes

Natural dyeing processes are regaining favour, especially in the slow fashion sector, as consumers become more conscious of the environmental and social effects of using chemical dyes (thanks in part to eye-opening movies like True Cost).

Workers exposed to artificial dyes daily without the proper equipment or ventilation can experience serious health problems. Furthermore, the harmful by-products of these chemicals are wreaking havoc on local ecosystems, polluting water sources and emitting poisonous air.

On the other hand, natural dyes are non-toxic and non-allergenic, and when blended properly, may generate stunningly bright colours. The plants used to make the colours also produce no waste because the rest of the plant is used in several ways by the local population, such as for medicinal purposes or cooking and food leftovers.

Furthermore, their manufacture may greatly assist local textile towns, contributing to the preservation of the local environment and the health of their community and employees and creating permanent jobs for residents. People are beginning to recognise the advantages of utilising plant dyes once more, ushering in a new golden era for natural dyes.

Natural Dyes' Social Benefits: Bringing the Community Together

Natural colours allow employees to avoid exposure to harsh chemicals and the serious health consequences that long-term exposure to such pollutants can bring. As a result, textile manufacture may become thriving community commerce again, generating ethical jobs for residents.

Slow fashion allows communities to develop their circular manufacturing system by cultivating their sustainable fabric, utilising natural colours from local plants, and hand weaving the garments.

Natural dye plants are widely used in the community.

Not only can the plants mentioned earlier be used to extract the dye, but there is also no waste because the other portions may be used in several ways by local groups.

Velvet tamarind pods, for example, may be used as an anti-inflammatory therapy in natural medicine. In contrast, the indigo plant can be used in tea or herbal to boost immune function.

As a result, it's a zero-waste process of textile dyeing that also benefits communities that make naturally coloured apparel. What's not to appreciate about that?
The Use of Locally Grown Dyes ensures economic Stability

Using locally generated colours creates a local market and long-term revenue for the region's residents.

This provides them with economic security without forcing them to relocate in search of work or exposing them to unethical and harmful working conditions in factories, as is the case in the mainstream textile business.

Purchasing clothes made with local dyes and distributed through local supply chains support a healthy ecosystem and helps to keep local employment alive, ensuring the economic Stability of a whole community.

Natural Dyes' Environmental Benefits and Consequences

Natural dyes provide several important environmental advantages, including:

They are biodegradable, which means that once you've finished using them, they will naturally disintegrate without releasing any harmful poisons into the land or environment.

They are free of any harmful pollutants. Natural dyes are generated entirely from natural sources like plants and insects, making them non-toxic to anyone who comes into contact with them without releasing hazardous by-products into the environment like conventional colours.

They are hypoallergenic, which means that when skin is exposed to them, they are less likely to produce allergic responses. This is perfect for those who have sensitive skin, such as eczema, as well as new-borns and toddlers.

Benefits of natural dyes

•    Reducing our reliance on hazardous synthetics If a bigger portion of the textile sector embraces natural dyes, fewer enterprises will be so reliant on dangerous synthetically coloured materials.

•    There will be less global demand for dangerous synthetic dye if customers get familiar with them and embrace the various tones and hues of colour they may provide.

•    As a result, the fashion industry may become less reliant on this textile production and instead adopt other environmentally friendly apparel manufacturing processes.

•    Carbon Footprint Reduction Another advantage of wearing plant-dyed clothing is that it reduces your carbon impact. Many natural colours are derived from completely renewable elements, such as plants or insects.

•    Plants avoid the full manufacturing process required to make synthetic colours, and the communities that grow these materials employ the plants for various purposes other than dye.

•    They also use less water to make because they don't require as much rinsing. Because the water utilised is high in nutrients and low in contaminants, it may be recycled into the following crop.

•    Buying organically coloured clothing can be a terrific, ethical alternative if you're searching for methods to lessen your carbon footprint.