To dye for

Conventional fabric dyeing can be hugely polluting, with toxic waste discharged into waterways – but one Kiwi brand is finding a better way.

Forget sweatshops for a moment: one of the toughest challenges ecominded fashion designers face is colour. Modern fabric dyes include toxic heavy metals and other less-than-friendly chemicals, while natural methods of colouring fabric are either impractical or very expensive.

With this in mind, Auckland clothing brand We’ar is determined to bring an ancient, all-natural dyeing technique into fashion once again.

We’ar employ a traditional Balinese dye house to turn their organic cotton from blah to blue with locally grown indigo leaves and a bit of hot water. “It’s an artisanal process – you couldn’t get a machine to do it,” says We’ar founder Jyoti Morningstar.

Indigo leaves are shredded and fermented, then the resulting paste added to a heated vat of water. Fabric is soaked four to eight times to get the right shade and aired between each dip to fix the colour.

Compared with conventional dye, this process isn’t cheap or efficient for We’ar. But Jyoti believes that developing a toxin-free alternative requires investment from brands such as hers. Offering repeat business to the dye house means its owners can afford to innovate. So far, they’ve planted a wetland treatment system which their blue-tinted wastewater is fed into. “It comes out clear and pure enough to be introduced back into the rice irrigation system,” says Jyoti.

Rice is Bali’s staple crop, and it’s water-intensive to grow. Since one of the major issues of conventional dying is how water is treated (or not), the innovations at We’ar offer a way forward. Now the wider industry just needs to follow suit.

Worried by tales of toxic dye? Look for brands with GOTS or Oeko-Tex certification – these ensure the use of harmful chemicals is minimised and wastewater is treated before discharge. Plus: shop We’ar’s gorgeous collection online.

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