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In Conversation with Namrata from Color Ashram on Natural Dyes

In Conversation with Namrata from Color Ashram on Natural Dyes

It's not often a brand can say their products are hand woven, naturally dyed and handmade so we are so proud to share our Haveli Indigo Collection with you.

Each of these bags has been naturally dyed with pure natural Indigo. This is a new process for us and we couldn't have done this without the good people at Color Ashram Foundation, a Natural Dye Training Studio based in Gujarat.

With 20 years of experience in certified natural dyeing, Color Ashram offer a new way of dyeing fabric. A natural and scalable solution to water pollution in the fashion industry.

We have been so inspired by their wealth of expertise on the subject and we had the privilege of asking Namrata all our questions about natural dyes, the processes involved and importance of making this switch for a more sustainable future in the fashion industry.


JOYN: Give us a quick introduction, what is Color Ashram Foundation and what does your work involve?

Namrata: Color Ashram Foundation is a safe haven, a natural dye innovation studio, consulting and training centre where you learn to use colors that are made from plants and minerals. We call them herbal dyes because we choose to use only natural and safe mordants. Our process and dyes are standardised and scalable, suited to industry standards as well as hand processes

We offer transition to natural way of colouring fabrics, paper, wall & more. Color Ashram is not your average workshop. We believe that true learning happens with reflection, connection, and also brings personal transformation. We therefore invite you to learn and experience it with us. 

We humbly intend to learn from its rich past, innovate in the present and adapt it for the future so that it can offer meaningful solutions to many ecological problems we are facing due to synthetic and toxic color applications. 


How do synthetic dyes cause waste and pollution in the textile industry? 

Water is an essential resource for life on the planet and for human development. 

The textile industry is one of the anthropogenic activities that most consume and pollute water. The linkage between textile and dyeing industry and water pollution is a prominent one. On an average a cotton shirt pollutes 2500 litres of water in its lifetime. And this polluted water cannot be retrieved or cleaned. 

The dye manufacturing industry represents a relatively small part of the overall chemical industries. In the world-wide production of dyes is nearly 800,000 tons per year. About 10-15% of synthetic dyes are lost during different processes of the textile industry. Synthetic dyes are valuable in numerous industries such as textile, paper printing, food, pharmaceutical, leather and cosmetics. It is classified into acid, reactive, direct, basic, vat, disperse, metal complex, mordant and sulphur dyes. There are more than 10,000 dyes used in textile Manufacturing alone, nearly 70% being azo dyes which are complex in structure and synthetic in nature. A major source of colour release into the environment is associated with the incomplete exhaustion of dyes onto textiles while dyeing. 

All told, about 200 L of water is used to produce 1 kg of fabric. A review of wastewater treatment steps found that textile effluent contains high concentrations of dyes and chemicals, including chromium, arsenic, copper, and zinc. Dyes and chemicals released into waterways also block sunlight and increase biological oxygen demand. (BOD)

Besides this, there is air pollution, skin damage that is caused due to toxic and carcinogenic contents of synthetic dye.

How is the use of natural dyes a solution to the water pollution that is caused by the fashion industry? 

Natural dyes do not cause water pollution.

Since natural dyes are made out of all natural  organic material, they do not have following harmful elements  like  TDS , CHLORIDE, NITRATES, SULPHATES, BICARBONATES, Heavy metals like LEAD, CHROMIUM, MAGNESIUM, etc .However it is important to use safe mordant or fixer as well, this is important if water pollution is the point of concern.

Secondly, the  effluent can be recycled or cleaned very easily. The solid waste turns into manure if herbal dyes are used rather than becoming toxic cakes that go into landfills. The water waste can be cleaned and recycled upto 75% and can be used in farms or cleaned in a RO plant and made into drinking water, whereas in synthetic dyes, there is no way to reuse the polluted water. 

Thirdly there is a reduction in expenses (as much as 50%) as one need not have a complex ETP and worry about pollution standards.

Where do you source the ingredients for your natural dyes to promote a circular economy? 

We take agricultural waste and forest waste to make our dyes. Like pomegranate peel, dried flowers, hartaki- that grows in abundance and is thrown away, etc. 


Tell us about the process of dyeing with Indigo? What is Indigo? What are the stages of the process?

Indigo plant, named as "Indigofera tinctoria", was discovered around 1600s (B.C.). Indigo dyestuff, extracted from its leaves, had been used in various primitive dyeing processes for years. In 1880's, the first synthetic (unnatural) indigo dye was developed by German chemist Adolf von Baeyer. He identified the chemical structure of indigo. After 1900s, synthetic indigo was marketed. In ancient years, indigo dyestuff was fermented in wooden vats. This process which is called as "vatting", is supposed to be the origin of vat dyes.

At ColorAshram, we use natural indigo with a sugar formula to make it active and standardised, and then we activate the vat with refined lime that is also standardised by us. That is all. We do not use any toxic alkali or activator as many indigo dyers are using today.

Indigo dyestuff which is classified as vat dye is insoluble in water and has no affinity to the fibre.  Indigo creates living colours on fabrics. Indigo dyestuff can never fully penetrate into the fibre, since its molecule is so big and it only adheres to the surface and remains at outer surface of the fibre. The inside stays white. It abrades or fades continually.

Indigo dye should be classified into two different chemical forms:

  1. Natural form, insoluble in water (cannot dye the fibre) 
  2. Leuco form, soluble in water (can dye the fibre) 

In natural form, indigo dyestuff has a color of blue but after reduced to leuco form, the color of the solution turns to yellow.

Indigo dyeing is a very tricky process as patches develop very quickly when fabric is taken out of dye bath. Unevenness in indigo is an inherent property of natural indigo dye. Expert dyers can handle indigo dyeing.

Are there any surprising qualities of naturally dyed fabric? For example, is it anti-bacterial/ anti-inflammatory, etc?

Indigo is known to be anti bacterial and has been used as medicine in many cultures. Also, indigo is known to ward off insects. It is safe for the body and should be washed regularly if it is a garment, as reduction- oxidation is a cycle that keeps indigo color fast. Washing is a reduction process as all soaps are somewhat alkali. 

What is your vision for the future of natural dyes?

Natural dyes currently have no place in commercial textile production. Not even 1 % of textile produced are natural dyed if we look at the quantum of textiles made. It has been seen as a craft from the past that has poetic and cultural value, not ecological value, not scalable option for dyeing, not standardised process of dyeing, not a viable process for consumers as it needs special wash care. In this context, we feel we want to make a 'dent' in the textile industry. Present the proof of its industrial use and commercial viability.Break the ice of the fear around natural dyes application. Application and standardising is our strength and we want to build a bridge for people to cross from synthetic dye to natural dye. And we are hoping there will be millions of ColorAshram in the coming future!

To find out more visit: Color Ashram Brochure


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1 comment

  • Pam

    Thank you for the article, as it was very interesting.

    All the very best with your future dying of fabric.

    Pam (in Australia)

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