Dyeing To Belong, Two Projects That Are Challenging Traditional Methods

Kelly Macbeth Mackay talks to Julia Kaleta and Nikolett Madai on the alternative dyeing methods that they have come up with for the textile industry.

Alongside Sanne Visser’s knot in the Sustainable Innovations section of Munich Fabric Start‘s Keyhouse sit two important projects challenging traditional textile dyeing methods and how we utilise natural materials to create vibrancy in fashion.

(L-R) Nikolett Madai and Julia Kaleta at Munich Fabric Start’s KEYHOUSE

The Atlas of Sustainable Colours

Sustainable Fashion Researcher and colour collector, Julia Kaleta, is the creator of The Atlas of Sustainable Colour(s), an ongoing project based on researching alternative colouring methods for the textile industry. “Whilst creating this project, I had in mind the idea of sustainability and collaboration,” said Julia. Continuing: “In order to succeed, sustainability needs collaboration. I want to continue mapping the industry in order to facilitate connections between stakeholders. This will make it easier for us to make a positive change in how we colour our clothing.” The European database of bio-dyers and natural-dyers is a collection of amazing, vivid colours without using synthetic, fossil-fuel based dyes.

“In order to succeed, sustainability needs collaboration.”

As a young girl, Julia spent her vacations at the scout camps in the woods collecting herbs and assembling them into a herbarium. Now, as a colour pioneer, she collects natural elements and catalogues their resultant colours. The idea is that these natural colours have no adverse impact on the environment and therefore future generations might also have the possibility to play within Nature, just as she did as a child. “My goal is to create a colour map. Many colourists are researching in their own studios but haven’t shared it with the world – I want to facilitate a space where we can all meet and share together,” shared Julia Kaleta. The concept of “The Atlas of Sustainable Colours” is a result of combining her personal interest in nature and biology with the artistic research of sustainable fashion and natural textile dyeing methods.


The development of non-toxic dyes is a step towards decreasing water pollution and unhealthy working conditions, which are big issues in the textile industry. Naturally dyed clothes also have a higher level of protection against ultraviolet rays than the ones dyed with synthetic dyes. Interestingly, naturally pigmented bacteria used for colouring textiles, amongst other things, has antibacterial properties, which might support our immune systems in the future. Nowadays, sustainable colour is researched all around the world.

“The Atlas of Sustainable Colour(s)” is a compendium of shades and tones made with plants and bacteria. Bio and naturally dyed textiles present the range of non-synthetic colours. The project is an outcome of a comprehensive research into alternative colouring for the textile industry. It’s a call for rediscovering aesthetics in fashion by exploring possibilities of sustainable colour sourcing. It is an attempt to catalogue artisanal natural dyes together with innovative ways of colouring with naturally pigmented bacteria, as well as looking for a spectrum of colours offered by algae pigments and textiles made out of clothing waste.

With a sensitivity for people and nature, Julia has decided never to produce clothes until she can find a way that does not hurt the environment. During her studies she became interested in natural and bio-dyeing practices and focused her artistic research on sustainable colours in fashion.  Mapping places, people and events in sustainable fashion reflects her fascination with complexity and connectivity and the dream of becoming a colour-collector for life.

The Grave-to-Cradle Project 

Nikolett Madai is a Dyer and practical researcher – her focus is on research into measurements and properties and how to create her own principle for dyeing textiles. 


The Grave-to-Cradle project is Nikolett’s Master’s Thesis. It incorporates by-products of the food industry into circular garment strategies. It utilises the biological cycle of products derived from natural resources, which can be turned into biological nutrients at the end of their life cycle. “There are so many possibilities for collaboration with food By-product dyes, like paper or wood. For example, I am collaborating with another student who is creating bioplastics with algae,” said Nikolett.

The concept “Grave-to-Cradle” draws a parallel between the circularity gaps in the food and the fashion industry. It suggests the incorporation of by-products of the food industry into circular strategies for garment production by developing the “Sustainable By-product Dyeing Principle”. The five pillars of this principle establish a sustainability standard on how to include various food by-products in textile dyes for the fashion industry. 


Madai has partnered with juice companies and locally sourced their waste. “Collaboration is to bring everything into full circle. I want to connect with suppliers but also ensure that my by-product goes elsewhere too. The Grave-to-cradle project was initiated to circulate all the resources available to us,” said Nikolett who showed me how turmeric peel is capable of giving fabric a bright yellow colour palette. 

 “We currently exist in only a 9.1% circular industry – there’s a lot of work to be done.”

A practicable model in realizing the S.B.D.P is drafted based on locally sourced juice processing turmeric peels and pomegranate rinds. The definition of locally sourced dyes is reinvented beyond cultivation to produce originated from local waste streams, resulting in the introduction of new yellow hues and shades to Berlin. 

The vibrant yellow hues and shades from turmeric peels sourced locally from juice processing waste are used as colourants for her collection which is entirely sustainably dyed and completely recyclable. The intricate sheer top is biodegradable, made from handwoven pineapple leaves and stitched with schappe silk thread. The rest of the pieces are easily recyclable, made from Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cottons to make your second skin benefit you and the planet.

“We currently exist in only a 9.1% circular industry – there’s a lot of work to be done,” shared Nikolett, whose end goal is to become a by-products supplier because there are so many fields to cover and she doesn’t want to implement a limit to textiles. Believing that “everything that helps to close the gap between food and fashion is a worthy collaboration,” Nikolett also shared how it is integral that we implement food by-products into all types of innovations.

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