Fab Fabrics: Why Earth Friendly Dyes are Important

Dye Vats in Morocco

Unless you’re working with muslin, chances are your fabric underwent some sort of dye process to achieve the colors and patterns that we love so much. There are a ton of options out there for fabrics dyed in an eco-friendly way, but sometimes it’s important to remember why we choose these materials over conventional ones.

One of the most heartbreaking examples of textile dyes’ impact on the environment is the denim industry around China’s Pearl River. This video about the industry is extremely eye-opening:

Finding Eco Alternatives

And denim is just one example. Conventional dyes are loaded with harsh chemicals, just like the ones used to turn denim navy blue. Whether those dyes end up polluting the water or not, some of those chemicals remain on the finished fabric. It’s not healthy for you to work with or for folks who are going to be using what you make.

Depressing, right? But don’t despair just yet!

You have a lot of power as a consumer, especially as a consumer of raw materials. Every time you choose fabrics from small producers colored with plant-based dyes, it makes a difference. When you opt to make your own non-toxic mix and dye your own fabric, it makes a difference.

Many makers of organic fabrics use vegetable based dyes in their process, but it’s probably not a good idea to assume. You can always contact the manufacturer and ask about their dye process.

In Europe, you can keep your eye out for fabrics certified with the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000. According to their website:

To qualify for certification according to the Oeko-Tex® Standard 1000, companies must meet stipulated criteria in terms of their environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes and provide evidence that at least 30% of total production is already certified under Oeko-Tex® Standard 100.

The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 tests finished fabrics for residual chemicals to ensure that they are safe for consumers. The Standard 1000 takes it a step further, looking at the entire process and its impact on the environment.

I couldn’t dig up any U.S. standards, though. If anyone knows of a legit certification program for textile dyes in the U.S., I’d love to hear about it!

[Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by anasantos]

16 thoughts on “Fab Fabrics: Why Earth Friendly Dyes are Important”

  1. Hello Becky. I really loved your article.
    To answer your questions about standards. There are standards for sustainability. You can find out more at the sustainablefurnishingscouncil.org website.
    They have an incredible library of information.


  2. Didn’t find any information regarding specific certification programs pertaining to dyeing standards in the US, but the US EPA (environemental protection agency) alongside NESHAP (national emission standard for hazardous air pollutants) seem to work together to regulate and standardize dyeing techniques and applications to ensure an eco-friendly process. Thanks for the info!

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  4. This is heartbreaking, but not surprising. Many American rivers in the east turned colors with dreadful consequences in the days when clothing factories flourished there. Not only have we exported our businesses abroad, but all the attendant problems. This CAN be cleaned up as I know a lot of it has been in the U.S. but whether the government has the will to make it happen…well, we can hope!

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  15. The research to have a sustainable resources for textile and dyeing industry continues and fortunately, a lot of manufacturers are now considering the use of organic materials in producing fabrics to lessen the harmful effects to the environment. Natural dyes are normally preferred over synthetic dyes because they provide less impact to the pollution, however, when you are working with large volumes of textile, a synthetic dye works better and is more cost-effective. There are textile dyes that are now safe for the environment, keycolour.net is one of the manufacturers of eco-friendly dyes that provides rich color without imposing threat or harm to the environment. Fibers such as cotton, wool and silk are sustainable material to produce textile with little or no burden to the environment as well. In addition, textile recycling can also be considered to reduce pollution and save money.

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