Plant Dyed’s Founders On The Importance Of Natural Dyes And Circularity In Fashion
1 month ago | Features|
Image: Plant Dyed's founders, Jake and Alina Springthorpe.
Plant Dyed makes classic tees and sweats that are better than classic tees and sweats, because they’re made from GOTS-certified organic cotton and dyed with natural plant dyes.
There is a lot of conversation about why choosing certified organic cotton over conventional cotton matters, but less conversation about why choosing natural dyes does, too.
We asked Plant Dyed’s founders, Jake and Alina Springthorpe, to walk us through how Plant Dyed came to be, how plant dyeing actually works, and why it matters, and they obliged. Onwards!
Well Made Clothes: Where did the idea for Plant Dyed germinate (sorry not sorry)?
Plant Dyed: Working for other fashion labels in the past, we frequently visited dye houses to review the manufacturing process. We were always blown away with how intense the smell of dye chemicals were at the facility.
Walking through the space always felt unsafe, though it was how the dyes were disposed of that was eye-watering to watch. Pools of Black water, created by chemical runoff, would build up and spill over to the surrounding lands behind the factory. It was sad to think about how many dye factories there were in the area & the long term impacts this had on their community.
This was where the idea for Plant Dyed was born, inspiring our search for safer dye alternatives. With some research we found a handful of dyers embracing nature to create colour, through traditional craft that has existed for thousands of years. It quickly snowballed from there as we opened up discussion with dyers and we grew even more in love with the process.
Well Made Clothes: Why tracksuits and tees?
Plant Dyed: Our goal is to create a line of essentials that can be worn and loved for years to come. We felt sweats and tees were a great jumping-off point as it allowed us to showcase our fun range of colours while remaining inclusive for anyone to wear.
Well Made Clothes: Why certified organic cotton and plant dyed?
Plant Dyed: It just didn’t feel right to grow our cotton with pesticides and genetically modified crops if we are advocating for innovative sustainable practices. Since Plant Dyed uses the cleanest dye methods, it was important for us to find fabrics that go hand in hand. That’s why the GOTS-certified organic cotton was the best fit for us.
Well Made Clothes: It’s quite a technical process creating great colours from natural plant dyes. Can you explain the process?
Plant Dyed: It’s usually a case of trial and error through experimentation. Each colour has its own journey from raw ingredients to a dyed garment, and all natural dye houses have their own recipes and methods to create a new colour.
There is no rule book for the process, which keeps things exciting and progressive. You’ll find that for instance, yellow pigments can be made with turmeric by one supplier, and made with Myrobalan with another. If you request a colour to be made that the dyers haven’t created yet, they usually have enough experience to know what to ferment, boil or mix to get a colour close to your desired shade.
Well Made Clothes: Each colour is derived from a different natural plant. Can you walk us through one colour and how you generate it from its natural origin?
Plant Dyed: Indigo dyes are our personal favourite. Many of us don’t realise that the colour ’indigo’ (most commonly confused for denim) actually refers to a native plant.
Indigo has been the source of blue dye since 600BC. It all starts with the plant's leaves, which are soaked in water and fermented in deep vats. This converts the naturally present glycoside indican into blue indigo dye. The longer we leave the Indigo to ferment, the deeper the blue gets over time.
Once the fermentation process is complete, we can then use it to dye our organic cotton. Unlike common dyes, Indigo doesn’t form a chemical bond with the fabric, instead it forms a ‘physical’ bond at a molecular level, and builds layers as it is re-vatted through the dye process. This gives the dye resistance to sunlight, though can fade with prolonged rubbing.
Well Made Clothes: When you were investigating the benefits of organic cotton and natural plant dyes, what were you most surprised to discover?
Plant Dyed: Coming into the project, we were under the impression that natural dyeing was a process completely done by hand, generally making the process slow with unpredictable results. We were blown away to discover that there is a community of established dyers who have grown their operation into mid-scale dye houses, using a combination of knowledge and machinery to develop new colours and high quality natural dyes. This discovery meant that natural dyeing could soon have the capacity to be adopted by larger brands that have serious impact on fashion’s environmental footprint.
Well Made Clothes: These garments will completely biodegrade. Why is this important to you and why is it important for us to consider the full life cycle of a garment?
Plant Dyed: A product’s life cycle should be considered with every purchase we make. At Plant Dyed, we consciously developed our fabrics without the use of synthetic fibres. Once a garment is disposed of, natural fibres will break down fairly quickly (around six months), in comparison to fibres such as polyester or nylon, that can take 20-200 years to decompose.
We make a conscious effort to consider the life cycle of all aspects of our product. Our dyes are recycled after use for local irrigation and farming. We also use compostable slips for our garments, and avoid using any unnecessary packaging that becomes instant waste. We only have one care card included in our parcels that is made of plantable seed paper.
Well Made Clothes: What do you see as the biggest issues in the current fashion industry and what should be done about them?
Plant Dyed: There are so many touchpoints that need to be improved to make fashion more circular with our planet. Every step has room for improvement, though we are focused on reducing the toxic chemicals in the process. We feel dyes and wash treatments of clothing are commonly overlooked and we are using Plant Dyed as a platform to bring attention to and change to the issue.
Well Made Clothes: What’s next for Plant Dyed?
Plant Dyed: We are working on introducing activewear to our current collection, hopefully launching close to end of the year and as always, we are experimenting with new colours and innovations with our dyes, though you’ll just have to wait and see!
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