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How Sustainable Dyes are Impacting the Textile Industry

How Sustainable Dyes are Impacting the Textile Industry
In a vow to ease the strain of such a resource-intensive industry, these textile dyeing methods are helping to make fashion much more sustainable.

The Problem with the Textile Industry

The earliest record of coloring fabric dates back to 3500 BC. All dyes were made with natural pigments and oils until 1856 when synthetic dyes were discovered. Now, 90% of clothes are dyed synthetically. The two biggest disadvantages of synthetic dyes are the heavy use of water and chemicals, with nearly 20 percent of global water pollution being linked to the textile dyeing processes.

The main culprits of the problem are the use of non-biodegradable, petroleum-based colorants in textile dyes. The use of these toxic chemicals causes the release of large amounts of colorants and fixation agents into the atmosphere and ecosystem. In the wake of strict environmental regulations, the industry is constantly looking into greener methods of coloring clothes.

A practical alternative to synthetic dyes is the use of natural colors extracted from biodegradable plant sources. The downside? The use of toxic agents still needs to be applied when producing these plant-based colorants. This is why there is currently a huge marketplace for environmentally friendly alternative dyes.

With natural and organic dyes ready to hit the market, here are some of the more innovative techniques companies are using to color clothes.

Hybrid Pigments

Specializing in textile chemistry solutions, Ecofoot is an award-winning university spin-off company. The company has successfully developed hybrid pigments that consist of a chemical dye linked to a polymer particle, reacting with cellulose fibers. The technology is used for dyeing cotton garments at low temperatures, as well as dyeing wool in a more ecological process.

Ecofoot also developed a hybrid pigment used for dyeing denim known as Ecofoot-Indigo. The process avoids the use of toxic agents that are conventionally used in converting indigo pigment to a water soluble form. Within the textile industry on a whole, common reducing agents are not environmentally friendly due to the sulfite and sulfate generated in the dyebat, so this innovation by Ecofoot is considered a huge breakthrough.

Bacteria Dyed Textiles

Bacteria dyed textiles are considered to be the new substitute to synthetic dyes. Created by The Vienna Textile Lab, bacteria dyed textiles are derived from natural microorganisms or bacteria, making them a 100% natural and chemical-free alternative. This innovative process uses strands of bacteria to create the dye and requires no crude oil, like in the production of synthetic dyes.

This method also has an edge over vegetable and plant-dyes, which are dependent on seasons, weather conditions and geograhaphical location. These bacterial strains are stored in labs and are able to be reproduced at any time. Colors such as blue, red, yellow, purple and orange have been achieved so far, and have an incredible colorfastness. The dyes can be applied to cotton, woll, angora, polyester.

The Austrian company is making quite the impact by rendering textile dyeing much easier and more ecologically friendly. The company plans to sell the finished dye fabric at the beginning phase of commercialization, in addition to licensing out the technology to textile mills.

Powdered Dyes from Textile Fibers

An Italian company, Officina+39 is made up of a team of professionals who are passionate about developing and supporting market demands in the textile industry. With 30 years of experience dedicated to research and chemical application, the company has developed a sustainable dye range known as Recycrom.

By using recycled clothing, fiber material and textile scraps, Recycrom is an elegant eight-step system in which the fabric fibers are crystalized into a fine power. This powder is then used as a pigment dye for fabrics and garments made from cotton, woll, nylon, or any natural fabier.

Dyes from Engineered Microorganisms

Based in the U.K., Colorifix is the first company to use a biological process to fix pigments onto textiles that reduces the use of water of up to ten times. The process consists of fixing the dye-producing bacteria directly onto fabric by using a carbon source solution. The technology doesn’t require a dye extraction process, with a single heating cycle by the lysis of the bacteria.

This new technology removes the need altogether for the aforemention toxic reducing agents for indigo dye solubiliozation.


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