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“During the dyeing process an average t-shirt will use 16-20 litres of water. 80% of the dye is retained by the fabric and the rest is flushed out … The global textile industry discharges 40,000 – 50,000 tons of dye into the water system and Europe discharges 200,000 tons of salt”

Cambridge University, Well Dressed report

Over the last two decades the synthetic dye industry has developed thorough health, safety and environmental standards to reduce negative impacts. However, there are still companies making carcinogenic dyes or those laced with harsh chemicals.

The majority of garment production and fabric dying now takes place in developing countries. Often health and safety regulations are not well enforced, with workers not using protective equipment or using banned products, which can be extremely damaging to health and wellbeing.

An alternative to chemical dyes is natural dyes (dye colours made from plant and animal sources). These may not be suited to large scale production, often requiring large amounts of water and chemical fixing agents. However they can be grown organically and are carbon neutral, and their use brings great benefits at an artisanal level.

Pioneering fair trade organisations such as Aranya in Bangladesh have revived the use of natural dyes, re-kindling centuries old culture and skills, creating beautiful, jewel like colours, and directly improving the livelihoods of crafts people and their communities through high quality products with a unique selling point.

Fashion professionals can play an important role through their specification and monitoring of the use of dyes, making sure that their products are dyed in the most environmentally friendly way possible, without damage to workers health, or by using natural dyes where appropriate.

Five classic natural dyestuffs are indigo, cutch, weld, madder and cochineal. These dyes can be used to make almost every colour.


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