Textile Dye: How You Can Make a Difference

Onesta Journal

Textile Dye: How You Can Make a Difference

Back to News


As we step inside the nation’s favourite shops, we are bombarded by the sheer volume of vibrant, multi-coloured garments to choose between. From baby pink to navy blue or neon green to burnt orange, thanks to the invention of synthetic dyes, the contemporary fashion industry offers a complete rainbow. 





However, it hasn’t always been like this!  Prior to the formation of artificial dyes in the mid-19th century, dyes were produced by artisans from natural sources, like minerals, plants and insects. Because of the skill required to produce and utilise these dyes, they were quite inaccessible to the average consumer. Most garments remained the natural colour of the fibre, something rare, and probably considered quite boring, in the fashion industry today!  


Artificial dyes can be produced in significantly larger quantities and in a much shorter amount of time than traditional dyes, making them very cheap to produce, and ultimately very popular amongst businesses focussed on the bottom line. Natural dyes began to lose their value while consumer expectations on the availability and vibrancy of dyed garments sky rocketed. Coloured clothing became a catalyst for creating and disseminating fashion trends throughout western societies, unravelling into the fast fashion industry we know today. 


The dyeing of textiles is responsible for 17-20% of industrial wastewater and 20% of toxic dyes that have not been fixed to the textile are released into the environment. What’s more, approximately 60% of fibres are produced from over 70% polyester, a commonly known pollutant sourced from petroleum. As a result, ecological habitats and marine life are being severely compromised. These statistics have created a demand for reintroducing naturally sourced dye in textile production. Bloggers (such as Botanical Colours), small business owners (like Ria Burns), and artists (including Oxidate Design), are revolutionising the use of natural dyes in modern fashion, offering an abundance of naturally hand dyed yarn, fabrics and clothing to purchase in the developing slow fashion movement. There is also a wide diversity of educational materials and community groups that encourage people to learn to dye themselves.  





As well as small-scale, community orientated efforts to increase the use of sustainable textile dyes in fashion, the rate of scientific research on the topic is also accelerating. 


In Ispata, Turkey, for every 1kg of solid rose perfume produced in the perfumery sector, 350kg of rose flowers are disposed of. This waste was used to dye industrial quantities of wool, preventing tonnes of organic materials going to waste whilst also reducing the toxicity of the wastewater released into the environment. If waste can be a source of natural dye, then processes like these could reduce the cost of waste disposal for businesses whilst also offering sustainable dye alternatives in the fashion industry.  


It’s all very well looking at what the big companies can do to limit the effects of toxic synthetic dyes on the environment, but the more prominent question at the back of all our minds is: what can I do?   

This is a question many of us struggle with when we decide we want to shop more sustainably, but aren’t sure how. So, we’ve put together a few ideas: 


  1. Support slow fashion 

Many often think that the transition to slow fashion involves replacing all of your previously purchased fast fashion garments with thrifted or ethically made clothing. But culling half of your wardrobe to make space for more isn’t great for the environment, nor your budget.  

One of the easiest ways to support slow fashion is to take care of the clothing you already have. You can do this by washing your clothes less often, and air drying them instead of tumble drying. Or, when an item you have gets a hole or the zip breaks, learn to repair it,  rather than tossing it out for something new. When the time does come to purchase a new garment for your wardrobe, consider supporting small, independent businesses that take into account their carbon footprint and waste. 


  1. Do your research  

In most cases, a simple google search can be enough to reveal the abundance, or lack, of information that a business publishes on their sustainability and ethical practices, and whether they are a brand you want to invest in.  

A few questions to ask yourself when researching a brand are:  

  • Are they transparent about their manufacturing processes and staff’s working conditions? 
  • Are their garments made from sustainably and ethically sourced fibres and dyes?  
  • Do they support fellow slow fashion brands and invest in positive charity affiliations? 

A useful resource for finding information on a brand quickly and clearly is the app “Good on You’.  



The app collates all the information published on the brand and scores them based on three major issues: People, Planet and Animals. From “We avoid” to “Great”, it makes purchasing recommendations for consumers. They also publish regular blog posts on how to progress in your slow fashion transition.  


  1. See the beauty in simplicity 

In our modern, technological world, people are commonly drawn to bright, vibrant colours and patterns. But as we have learnt, this in itself has major implications on our planet. Be an advocate for slow fashion by breaking trends with naturally sourced and ethically produced clothing. At times the patterns may be simpler, or the colours more muted, but they are a beautiful representation of the natural world around us!  


It’s super important to be aware of all the processes that go into making the clothes that we wear, from the coloured dyes to the types of fibre.  


See you soon, 

Lily x