The Marriage of Modern Science with the Ancient Past in Creating a Future for Natural Dyes

Guest Article by Naina Bajaria

The applicability of using natural dyes on a mass scale is a somewhat debateable topic amongst the natural dye community. Although I had not initially set out to answer this question within my research, it seems that it is corollary to investigating their resurgence within eco-fashion sectors. And I am interested in the answer.

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Natural dyes have a common misconception of being of poor ‘fastness’ and involve laborious mechanistic process in their usage. Therefore, their chemical counterparts, the synthetic dyes, have ultimately won their popular positioning within the textile industry with their ease of use, accuracy in reproducibility and strong colour fastness. But the ecological and physiological effects associated with these dyes within the textile industry has begged us to question their continued usage.

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The value of ‘traditional knowledge’ (often referred to as ‘indigenous knowledge’) is being formally recognized in formulating global strategies for mitigating and adapting to environmental change. Amongst many of my research participants, the notion of referring ‘how it used to be done’ [when talking about using natural dyes] regularly comes up. In pursuit of finding alternatives to the chemical age we are in, we seem to naturally look backwards for answers first. And it makes sense to. For thousands of years humans have been adapting to environmental change. The reason for their success is because of the way humans have managed to learn and adapt along the way by ensuring that their knowledge base is diversified as well as passing on knowledge and lessons from past experience.

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These thoughts tie in perfectly to one of my research participants from my project, Rachel Machenry, business owner of Botanica Tinctoria. Having studied in England for her degree in textiles, Rachel’s career path took her on a journey into using natural dyes facilitated by personal experience as well as an exploratory eye for cultural beauty and environmental protection. It was a research trip to India that allowed Rachel to build up a solid network of contacts in setting up a supply chain for her company. Botanica Tinctoria is an online shop, selling naturally dyed trimmings including ribbons, tapes, broderie anglaise, hand-crocheted lace and rick rack as well as high quality Eri silk, perle and 6-strand embroidery threads. These products are also currently available in three stores within Europe (The UK, Netherlands and Portugal). Still in its infancy, Rachel is still experimenting with her products to see where they best suit in the market.

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What is so exciting about Botanica Tinctoria is the system in which the products are dyed within. Rachel has a strong link to the company Biodye, which is an innovative natural dye house in India which has successfully set up a sustainable, closed loop system for using natural dyes on a large scale for textile production. The beauty behind such an innovative system is the marrying of two strands of knowledge, including the ancient and historical practices of natural dyes that have been used in India for thousands of years, with the biotechnological advances and research opportunities of today. Biodye is an exemplary of how natural dyes can be used on a large scale.

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Another thread that is beginning to emerge within this research is the growing interest in the science behind natural dyes. And I have spoken to a number of participants who come from backgrounds of areas such as biology and chemical engineering who would agree that it is this scientific and biological knowledge that will be the key in advancing to the use of natural dyes to an industrial scale. Biodye is living proof of this. And it is a closed loop, sustainable system! And even those that do not have a scientific background still express much interest in learning and understanding the molecularity of natural dyes to further advance their knowledge.

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Connect with Naina through her Blog, where she will also blog about health, beauty and natural alternatives

Connect with Rachel Machenry (in the picture) via her Website

Interesting article on traditional knowledge and adaptation to change:

Culture: the Engine of Human Adaptation

Social Learning Leads to Our Greatest Achievements and Worst Errors

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