New know-hows reconcile color and sustainability in textiles 

A garment’s color is the result of many intermediary steps that consume a particularly high amount of energy. Water-based processes and drying treatments and cycles often require the use of chemicals along with significant quantities of hot water.

These can represent 36% of the CO2 emitted during a product’s entire life-cycle, and thus have a significant impact – as well as carrying potential health risks.

Mindful of the need to reduce this impact, Première Vision’s exhibitors are coming forward with new solutions. Whether natural or chemical, they focus on reducing water consumption and chemical by-products.

Here, we take a look at some of the main ways to reduce the negative impact of dyes throughout a garment’s life-cycle.

Natural solutions 

Natural options are by definition those not derived from a chemical process. The most famous of these is of course natural color, whether vegetal or mineral. But other possibilities are also emerging, creatively expanding the field of possibilities.


The most natural option is to simply retain the original color of the fiber. In this case, regardless of whether it came from a plant or an animal, the fiber is neither bleached nor dyed.

This option requires a very sound knowledge of the original fibers. In effect it’s possible to obtain a wide range of chromatic shades by playing on all the many different fiber varieties.

While not yet widespread, natural colored cotton offers a relatively broad tonal palette, ranging from pink to brown to green, without any pigment additives. These cottons come from specific varieties that are enjoying a new popularity. Fleece, depending on which specific animal or breed its derived from, can provide tones ranging from cream to chocolate.

Today, these limitations are paving the way to new creative avenues. Fibers and nuances are being blended, to give textile collections a whole array of differentiating features. This can be seen in the authentic chiné fleeces at CFM, the cashmere herringbones from Sonsinee, and the denims from Rajby.

Incalpaca has also made this approach one of its hallmarks. Thanks to their skillful fiber blends, the company, a specialist in high-end alpaca woolens, can now offer some 20 natural colors. Their goal is to further expand the range, notably by rescuing the breeding of black alpacas, which are becoming increasingly rare. Their collection consists of plains, as well as fancy checks and houndstooths.

Natural dyes

Natural dyes are primarily formulated from plants, flowers, roots, wood essences or fruits, by extracting their coloring elements. In the past, there’s often been a negative perception around the process, as it was almost impossible to reproduce a color faithfully. Uniformity, bleeding and light stability all presented obstacles in terms of industrial production. In addition, although the dyes didn’t require chemicals, potentially toxic mordants were needed to fix the color. 


Today, technological advances make it possible to benefit from the natural aspect of these methods without any of the negatives. Exhibitors are working with innovative companies such as Greendyes, Algaeing and Indidye to offer a wide array of colors. Without the use of toxic mordants, these new processes can be used on plant, animal and cellulosic fibers. The result is a wide variety of colors and the ability to play with stripes and other patterns, as can be seen at Bugis.

Technological innovations  

Consumers are increasingly educated on the subject of eco-responsibility, and pay particular attention to dyeing methods. Therefore, the use of petrochemical dyes is being called into question. The fact is that pre-treatments and dyes, when poorly used and purified, represent a real source of soil and water pollution, as well as an important health risk.


A practice with a long history in Prato, Italy, upcycling is one way to achieve color without resorting to dyeing. Upcycled goods use previously dyed fibers, thus saving water and energy along with pigments and chemicals.

A primary example might be the use of colored yarn cone ends, which can be employed for small quantities or the creation of jacquards and stripes.

Another example is to use wools and cottons from the recycling process. Fabrics are sorted by color and type of fiber, then soaked in water to be shredded. The fibers are ready to be re-spun without over-dyeing or chemical treatment. 

Innovative partnerships

Thanks to their Recype® technology, Manteco has made recycling, an ancestral Prato know-how, its signature.

The technology allows them to create an extraordinary, almost infinite range of wool colors without the addition of dyes or chemicals.

RDD, a Portuguese knit specialist, has teamed with textile chemicals specialist Officina + 39, which has developed a technology called Recychrom® designed to transform textile waste into pigment.

Used apparel and production offcuts are collected and transformed into a colored powder. Recychrom® can be applied via different methods: exhaustion dyeing, soaking, spraying, coating, etc.

RDD, along with Pangaia and Tintex, are all very much focused on eco-responsibility and work with Colorifix. This innovative company uses a state-of-the-art technology that replicates the DNA sequences of pigments found in nature and reproduces them, creating unique colors with the aid of microbes. This process makes it possible to dye with less water, at low temperatures, and without the addition of chemicals.

For more on the subject, go here for a look at the know-hows behind sustainable dyes for leather.  

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