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Natural Dyes

Steer clear of harmful chemicals

Vibrant, bright, colorful: these have been desirable characteristics for clothing and lifestyle items for centuries, with the process of using natural dyes dating back to the stone age. Until the 1850s, dyes were produced naturally, and were created using items found in nature such as plants, fruits, vegetables, insects, and trees.  The industrial revolution created high demand for textiles, and in turn, a demand for dyes that could be mass produced cost effectively.  Chemical dyes were created, and have been widely used for over a century in the place of natural dyes.  While chemical dyes are less expensive than their eco-friendly counterparts, they come with a host of threats to the environment.

Environmental impacts

There are many negative impacts of chemical dyes on the environment.  During the dyeing process, between 10-15% of the chemicals used are released into the environment, wreaking havoc on rivers, oceans, and the surrounding land.  In 2011, the Jian river in China was dyed red as a result of illegal chemical dumping into a storm water pipe.  Rivers in Bangladesh are also victims of the harmful waste from garment factories, such as the Dhaleshwari river which is a murky black, and causes disease and skin ailments when swam in. 

The fashion industry contributes to ⅕ of water pollution globally. When the harmful chemicals from dyes enter the water, they accumulate and they group, preventing light from entering from the surface of the water.  This impacts the ability of plants to produce oxygen, which kills animals and plants that depend on it. 

Chemical Dyes

Chemical dyes, or AZO dyes, are the most common types of dyes used in the textile and fashion industries.  These dyes contain known carcinogens, and resist water treatment processes.  They are most commonly used due to their ability to dye textiles at a lower temperature, they can produce more vibrant colors than some chemical-free counterparts, and the fact that they do not easily bleed colors.  They also can be dangerous to human health, as 4-5% of the dyes can cause aromatic amines, which are linked to the development of cancer.  These amines can enter the body in many ways, but the most common for textiles is absorption through the skin. 


AZO-free dyes do not contain the same types of chemicals that create and free the amines, making them less harmful for human use. They have a higher absorption rate into clothing, reducing the amount of chemicals used in the dyeing process and the amount of water needed to produce colors, making them more eco-friendly from creation to finished product.

Natural dyes: 

There are a number of different types of natural dyes that come from natural sources, such as plants, trees, insects, fruit, and more.  They contain no harmful or synthetic chemicals, and are the obviously eco-friendly and healthy choice for the planet and for human use, which is causing natural dyes to become more prevalent in use today.  They can also create beautiful patterns and unique prints, such as the products from The Waight pictured here. Check out our selection of naturally dyed products on Flourish! 

We wish you the best of luck on your journey to greener living! Be sure to look out for more tips in future articles, and feel free to contact us if there is a topic you would be interested to learn about; chances are people in the Flourish community are looking for the same information, and we’ll give you a shout-out for your participation!

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