Why it’s hip to use natural dye for your clothes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 17) — Thinking about joining the tie-dye trend? Or maybe you have an old shirt in need of some touch up?

Why not harness the beauty of nature and turn your kitchen leftovers into fabric colors?

Natural dye and textile artist Mariton Villanueva broke down the reasons why it’s better to choose natural dye over chemical ones.

It’s good for the environment and textile workers

Using chemicals in dyeing clothes is one of the most polluting and energy-intensive part of making our clothes. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry uses enough water to fill 37 Olympic-sized swimming pools every year, and majority of this are used during dyeing. Substances from the chemical dye also remain long in the environment because they do not degrade.

The Dhaka, Bangladesh government in 2019 declared three rivers biologically dead due to the liquid waste coming from nearby garment factories.

Villanueva said these chemicals are not only hurting the environment but also the workers.

“'Yung mga chemical dyes, meron silang nailalabas na toxic 'pag nag-react sa respiratory system ng workers. Kahit sa balat,” she added.

[Translation: Chemical dyes emit toxic fumes that affect the respiratory system of the workers. It also affects the skin.]

She said natural dyeing, the process of coloring fabrics using natural resources like plants, fruits, and flowers, is a better option.

It’s also cheap, easy, and zero-waste because kitchen scraps like onion skins and avocado pits and skins may be used in dyeing.

(L-R): Turmeric powder, avocado skin and pits, red onion skin, and yellow onion skin

Preserving Filipino culture

Villanueva said choosing natural dye is not only eco-friendly, it’s also a good way to preserve the Filipino culture.

The Itneg or the Tingguian people from Abra in the Cordillera Administrative Region are considered the natural-dye makers — just one of the indigenous groups which preserved the practice of traditional dyeing.

“Sa Abra kinu-cultivate nila ang indigo color natin. Madami silang sapang wood — kulay na may purple o reds,” Villanueva shared. “Parang bumabalik tayo sa practice ng Filipino na local na tradition ng pag-dye, 'yung traditional way na ang mismong materyales ay gawa sa likas na yaman — mga halaman, bulaklak, puno. So mabibigyan ng value ang mismong pag-aalaga sa environment.”

[Translation: In Abra, they are cultivating the indigo color. It's like we're going back to the Filipinos' tradition of dyeing using materials found in the nature, such as plants, flowers, and trees. It's like we are giving value to the environment and taking care of it.]

Abra is considered as the "Natural Dye Capital of the Philippines” because of its rich resources of natural dye coming from barks, leaves, fruits, and roots. Villanueva said the Philippines has over 100 sources for natural dyes.

While natural-dyeing is usually done at home or by crafters, Mariton hopes even big clothing manufacturers are on their way to embracing natural dyeing.

“I could say doon na papunta ang industry ngayon na parang nagiging hip na ang sustainability sa fashion industry. Siguro doon na papunta na mas prevalent ang natural dye,” Villanueva added.

[Translation: I could say our industry is going in that direction. Sustainability in the fashion industry is getting hip. I think with that track, natural dyes will become more prevalent.]