Devastating the Environment and Posing Health Hazards to Humans, Are You Still Dyeing To Belong?

Isn't it time for the textile industry to seriously look at (and invest) in alternative dyeing methods?

Recently CNN wrote a shocking article on Asian rivers. The report investigated how our colourful closets are to blame for the rivers in Asia turning black. The story, which was produced as part of CNN Style’s The September Issues, looked at how textile dyeing, one of the most polluting aspects of the global fashion industry, is devastating the environment and posing health hazards to humans. The cause? Waste from nearby garment factories and dye houses that have polluted a river in Savar, just north of the Bangladesh capital. Turning its water black as ink. Abdus Salam told CNN reporter Helen Regan, “There are no fish now. The water is so polluted that our children and grandchildren cannot have the same experience.” The good news is that there are a few solutions in the works. Led by innovators in the fashion tech space, they are challenging traditional methods by offering alternative dyeing methods that could turn the textile industry around.

Challenging How We Dye to Belong

Accepting the challenge to clean up the industry is Nikolett Madai and Julia Kaleta. I first met them at Munich Fabric Start’s KEYHOUSE, at the Sustainable Innovations stand. They were introducing two projects that defied traditional textile dyeing methods by utilizing natural materials to create vibrancy in fashion. Kaleta, a sustainable Fashion Researcher and colour collector, is the creator of The Atlas of Sustainable Colours and Madai is a Dyer and practical researcher. Kaleta’s project is based on researching alternative colouring methods for the textile industry, while Madai’s focus is on research into measurements and properties and how to create her own principle for dyeing textiles.  

Hoping to facilitate a space where innovators can meet and share Kaleta has been combining her personal interest in nature and biology with the artistic research of sustainable fashion and natural textile dyeing methods. Believing that to succeed, sustainability needs Collaboration Kaleta shared: “Whilst creating this project, I had the idea of sustainability and collaboration.” She continued: “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.” 

Not ready to produce clothes until she can find a way that does not hurt the environment, Kaleta is dedicated to the development of non-toxic dyes. She is making steps towards decreasing water pollution and unhealthy working conditions. Hoping to offer a solution to a big issue in the textile industry, the Atlas of Sustainable Colours is a compendium of shades and tones made with plants and bacteria. 

She explains: “Bio and naturally dyed textiles present the range of non-synthetic colours. The project is an outcome of 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”.

Could By-products of the Food Industry Be The Answer?

Madai is mastering how to utilize the biological cycle of products derived from natural resources. Determined to find a way to turn biological nutrients at the end of their life cycle into dyes Madai shared with “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.” 

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. 

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

With a lot of work to be done, 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 Madai. The dye innovators end goal is to become a by-products supplier. Hoping to close the gap between food and fashion, Madai believes that the way forward is to implement food by-products into all types of innovations. If you think otherwise, I have two words for you, Orange Fiber.

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We first explored Dyeing to Belong in 2019.