Since several centuries, fabrics have been dyed with several natural extracts including minerals, and plants. In fact, exotic pigments were reserved for high status people only. Around 1856, scientists discovered the process to make synthetic dyes. Since it was cheaper to produce and was easier to apply to fabric, the dyes paved the way for several clothes as natural dyes lost their footing to a great extent.
The chemicals used to produce these synthetic dyes however had detrimental effects to nature. They were toxic, carcinogenic, and extremely dangerous to work with. Some chemicals were highly flammable too. Some of the harmful chemicals included dioxin, chrome, copper and formaldehyde which were carcinogens or suspected to be carcinogenic.
Recent researches have examined the potential side-effects due to skin absorption of dye and finishing chemicals when wearing synthetically dyed clothes. A CNN report (October 2007) about chemical burden testing revealed that young children actually suffer from increased levels of chemicals seeped into their bloodstream and skin. Since clothes are always in contact with skin, toxic chemicals sometimes get absorbed in it, especially when skin pores open up to allow perspiration.
The Importance of Natural Dyes for Sustainable Fashion
Natural herbs and plants in their raw form, including roots, leaves, and flowers are crushed into smaller pieces, ground in pulverizers and then sieved to create dye powder. Natural fabrics like organic cottons and silks , natural wools and linens are dependent on best quality vegetable dyes.
Sustainable fashion now no longer is an oxymoron since it is fast acquiring a permanent business practice in the fashion industry. The entire organic cloth industry is ushering in a paradigm shift an extremely polluting industry. Previously, socially conscious behaviour prompted the use of organic cotton and natural vegetable dyes in terms of donations for charity, but now designers are now developing clothes that are eco-friendly and humanitarian and boast of significantly lower carbon footprint than those made from chemical-intensive methods.
The Emergence of Fair Trade
One of the biggest changes has been in the production of organic cotton. Nearly 25% of the total pesticides are now being used for non-organic cotton production, which take up about 8000 chemicals. These chemicals have always been the cause of pollution and contamination in nature and our ecosystem.
To counter this problem, many designers have opted for organic cotton, which is a better fabric than non-organic cotton since it does not use pesticides and is more comfortable too. But organic cotton requires a lot more time and effort to produce hence organic clothes are pricier than synthetic cotton clothes. There are few facilities that recycles scraps of discarded cloth and spins them into new yarn.
Designers are now even relying on bamboo fibre, that does not need pesticides to grow and can absorb greenhouse gases during its growth. But for bamboo fibre processing to be converted into textiles, chemicals are used which again is detrimental to nature. Hemp is also one of the optimal raw materials for development of eco-friendly fabrics but not many countries endorse the material.
The best practice is to make use of vegetable dyes and natural pigments, so that you can reduce the level of chemical pollutants around.
A number of designers have jumped the bandwagon of sustainable fashion. Even international celebrities, actors and models are keen to endorse the use of organic cotton clothes and attire based on vegetable dyes including Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek. Designers Stella McCartney, Peter Ingwersen, U2 front man Bono, and the like are prominent pioneers of spreading the word about sustainable fashion practices.
Fashion magazines and shows are doing their bit too. The New York Fashion Week for example now sports collections by designers who are keen on following eco-friendly and fair trade practices through their stylish creations. These designers make use of hand spun khadi and organic dyes while Indian designers like Samant Chauhan, Anita Dongre and many more have even come up with ‘green’ collections.
Clothing giants like ‘People Tree’ who are keen on spreading fair trade practices have roped in celebrities such as Emma Watson in designing their collections. Cosmetics brands such as the Body Shop have long resorted to natural ingredients only and have ensured that their products are not tested on animals or harm the environment.
The Fashion Trends in Sustainable Clothing for the Future
All these changes in the fashion world have started a conscious and responsible trend to implement eco-friendly practices in the production of organic cotton and use of vegetable dyes. Being a ‘green’ designer is now useful in gaining publicity and it has really helped in the implementation of organic materials. The high cost might look as an impediment for commerce of fashion, but consumers can be prompted to make a responsible decision, so that environmentally responsible apparel is available to everyone and ultimately the costs would lower with time.
Today, brands are also evolving with the help of green and sustainable products to meet environmentally conscious consumer demands. With the boost of organic clothing brands, one can expect fair trade practices receiving a fillip and handlooms compensating village-based craftsmen with better remuneration for the same.