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Low impact dyes

Today there are many ways of adding color to textiles, unfortunately most processes are harmful for our planet. Let's see what types of dyes exist, how they affect our environment and why I choose to work with low impact dyes.

The benefits of low impact dyes

1. Synthetic dyes

In the textile industry, colors are achieved by dyeing the fiber. Even whites are chemically bleached. The processes used are very chemical without any regard to its environmental impact. A good percentage of the global water pollution actually comes from textile processing.

This method uses a lot of chemicals, huge water consumption and a huge amount of energy. Typically, almost nothing is recycled or reused and all wastewater enter our soil and water in extremely big amounts. The results are polluted rivers and soil, which makes it inhabitable for plants, wildlife and humans!

Synthetic dyed garments aren't so safe to wear either. You won't notice this, but our skin actually absorbs part of the chemicals over time.

2. Natural dyes

A good alternative is using natural dyes, which are extracted from plants and flowers. But there are many disadvantages to this method as well. First of all, to dye a fiber with natural dyes, a huge amount of plant extract is needed to dye only a little amount of fiber. That means that if this method is used, we're gonna need a lot of farms, which are also used for the food industry and that will lead to even more pesticides and fertilisers as well. Secondly, natural dyes don't hold their color very long, they fade over time. And lastly, for the fiber to bond with the dye, mordants are needed. Depending on the choice of mordants, most are chemical and toxic, even some natural ones.

On a large scale, this just isn't the right method, even with the use of sustainable mordants. On a small scale however, this can be a good alternative, if combined with non-toxic materials.

3. Low impact dyes

Then there are low impact dyes, or also known as fiber reactive dyes. Reactive dyes use a lot less chemicals than the synthetic method and are among the safest ones for the skin.

An advantage of working with this type of dyes, is that it uses a very little amount of water. The dye itself bonds with the fibers and even becomes a part of their molecular structure, which also means that less amount of dye stays in the water. When used by a small business, the impact on the environment is very low because the microbes in our soil break the the water down in to molecules that are harmless for the environment. If used on a large scale, the wastewater can and should be recycled and reused in the dyeing process.

The method I use requires a low amount of 'cold' water, to reduce the amount of energy. They don't contain heavy metals, except for one color, which I decided not to work with. Most of my garments are hand dyed with this method, and some are eco-dyed by the manufacturer, where they follow sustainable guidelines.

Note on bleeding colors

In the first few washes, the colors might bleed a little. The reason for this is that I don't use extra unnecessary rinse cycles to reduce this tiny amount of bleeding. Make sure to wash separately with similar colors in the first washes, as per instructions on the wash label of your garment.