History of Fabric Dyes

“Today, 90% of clothing is dyed synthetically, and critics say you can tell the next season’s hit hue by the color of the rivers in China. Tragically, chemical dyeing can cause significant environmental degradation and harm to workers if not handled properly. Increasing interest in sustainable fashion has reawoken the art of natural dyeing.” (zady.com)

In the past dyes were made naturally from exotic plants, insects, or sea life and color of dyes were usually determined by geographic area. Some examples from Zady.com of dye colors and where they may have come from are:
Crimson- was derived from an insect found on oak trees in the Mediterranean
Yellow- was derived from numerous plants
Blue- was derived from indigo, a plant found in both India and Asia

Currently, for the amount of clothes that are produce in the world, it is easiest, fastest, and more practical to use synthetic dye but is it really easiest, fastest, or practical when you consider everything it may be damaging? I found an article on Zady.com about this issue and I found it contained important information on this subject and was extremely informative. I wanted to share this entire article because I think it could be really helpful in understanding our cause to read it:
An English teenage chemist, William Perkin, was searching for a form of synthetic quinine—then an anti-malaria medicine—that could be derived from coal tar. Quinine was the only medicine to cure malaria at the time, and came from the bark of the cinchona tree, found in South America. The bark was in short supply. English soldiers were dying from malaria in India, so Perkin was on a mission to discover an alternate cure. During one of his experiments, he noticed that his mixture of coal tar turned a rich purple color. He dipped a piece of silk into the mixture. Instantly, he knew he had stumbled upon something miraculous. Perkin called the dye color mauveine, or mauve. Because it didn’t run or fade, he saw marketing potential for the discovery and sent a fabric swatch off to dye houses. His mixture was an immediate success. Perkin left the Royal College of Chemistry in London (losing much of his credibility in the scientific community) and starting manufacturing synthetic dyes.

It is estimated that over 10,000 different dyes and pigments are used industrially and over 7 x 105 tons of synthetic dyes are annually produced worldwide. Once the English began manufacturing mauve, the Germans invested in a state of the art synthetic dye industry that supplied mills throughout Europe and North America. By World War I, Germany had become the world leader in synthetic dyes and supplied 90 percent of America’s textile industry. With Perkin’s discovery, the art of natural dyeing was virtually lost, as all efforts were placed in synthetic dyes.

InTech Science, in an article regarding the environmental dangers of synthetic dyes writes, [The textile industry consumes a substantial amount of water in its manufacturing processes used mainly in the dyeing and finishing operations of the plants. The wastewater from textile plants is classified as the most polluting of all the industrial sectors. The increased demand for textile products and the proportional increase in their production, and the use of synthetic dyes have together contributed to dye wastewater becoming one of the substantial sources of severe pollution problems in current times.]

In addition to the vast environmental dangers involved with working with synthetic dyes, there is also human risk involved. Synthetic dyes are hazardous and very dangerous for workers in the industry who inhale them as they produce product. In short, toxic chemicals are absorbed into the skin of workers when they come into prolonged contact with synthetic dye, and that dye is most easily absorbed into skin when a worker’s body is warm, when pores are open.

The use of natural dyes would solve the problems associated with synthetic dyes, but for the shift to occur, society will need to band together—on behalf of fabric workers and on behalf of our planet—to demand a change in landscape.”

A switch back from synthetic to natural dyes would take a long time and a lot of natural resources, I.E flowers, but I think that it is a direction that we need to go in order to save our environment, especially our water sources. Although, we know that it is achievable because companies like Zady have proven it is possible we just have to be willing to try to change our ways.

Sources: https://zady.com/features/37