Making

Natural Dye Tops: An Inside Look

When we first started, we knew what our non-negotiables were: the impact we wanted to achieve, and the processes that had to be in place to achieve them. One of which was our commitment to sustainable production practices. If you’ve been with us for a while now, you’ll know that we work with a minimal waste design approach, and our garments are created with natural materials, and azo free dyes. Azo free dyes are not natural dyes, but they are removed of any chemicals that would be harmful to the environment, maker, and wearer.

Sustainability is a journey. We know there’s always more that can be done, and it’s our responsibility to take that step forward. Over the years, we’ve tested the waters with natural dye. We made a pair of pants natural dyed with the indigo plant, and two of our #MATTERwraps were also natural dyed with the indigo plant, and mahogany wood bark. This range of natural dye tops is our step forward.

3 reasons why we love natural dye:

 

1. It is a traditional craft that dates back to thousands of years. Today the few who still know how to dye naturally often work with chemicals because they can not manage to find a demand for their skill. Creating a need for natural dye allows for the conservation of the craft.

2. For the love of colours! Less than two hundred years ago the whole world still wore natural dyes every day, and it’s one of the most sustainable dyeing options out there.

3. It creates work by hand, providing employment and a safe environment to dyers, for them to be able to carry their families’ skills forward and express themselves with something they feel proud and strongly about.

During our India Trip, we stopped by four cities, one of which was Ahmedabad – home to Indigenous Industries, our artisan partners who created this range of natural dye tops. In our time there, we got a closer look at the process behind our tops; from the materials and colours, to the people who made them.

 

4 colourways, 2 styles – these newest additions are natural dyed with plants like indigo, myrobalan, common madder, and fermented iron. Two of them come in banana fibres, and the other two in khadi cotton.

 

The material:

If you missed it earlier, here it is again – The Pyramid Tops are made from banana fibres. As in, the actual edible fruit itself. Here’s how it works. Usually, when bananas are harvested from the trees, the stalks are seen as waste to be cut down and burnt. An alternative to this is to extract yarn from the stalks through machines. (Fun fact: the yarn extraction machines for banana fibres are simple to use and cheap to buy, which means they’re highly accessible to banana farmers. It makes for an added income, which adds a social dimension to the fibre.)

The Cross-Back Tops on the other hand (new style alert!) are handspun and handwoven in khadi cotton. If it’s familiar to you – it’s likely because we’ve used this material in the past with The Chenelle Jacket. Mahatma Gandhi saw khadi cotton as a symbol of Indian textile heritage. He would encourage people across India to spin their own yarn, to go back to the roots of their heritage with pride while supporting the Khadi industry. It is a fabric that embodies a worldview of the past as well as the future.

The natural dyes:

This range of tops is natural dyed with indigo, myrobalan, common madder plants, and fermented iron. A parallel of deliberate waiting and patience are the undercurrent necessary to its making. From the 2 days needed to prepare the dye paste (15 for fermented iron), repetitive cycle of dyeing and drying, to the finishing of the fabrics – time governs the natural dye process.

For those who are curious – fermented iron isn’t plant-based but it is still considered a natural dye because it is a natural-occuring element dug out from the ground.

Natural dyes often get a bad rep for its colour fading tendency. Our artisan partner, Indigenous Industries, are no strangers to this concern and they structured their processes to prevent this – from a 3 day process of bathing the fabrics in a natural mordant to fix the colour to the fibres, to developing a finishing recipe of their own that colourfasts the fabrics.

 

There is no perfection in natural dye, which is its beauty. Like all things in the realm of handmade craft, it is the imperfections that make them worth appreciating.

 

From dyeing to stitching, there are 25 people involved in the making of these tops. Dyeing begins with Jeethu and Ahmid – Jeethu learned natural dyeing at a young age and has been doing so for the past 30 years. He is considered to be a true master of the craft. Whereas Ahmid learned from one of the most prestigious dyeing families in the whole of Gujarat. When the fabric is dyed, the pattern master, Yusuf, cuts the fabric before passing it to the tailors for stitching.

Natural dyed with 2 materials we’re excited to add to our collection, and 1 new style to boot – shop the tops here.