Just by looking at their Colour: can you tell if Clothes are Sustainable?

Just by looking at their Colour: can you tell if Clothes are Sustainable?
By Elena Picci

Which colour fits you the best? Don’t you want to know if it is toxic for you, the environment or the workers who dyed your clothes? What if you could recognize a sustainable outfit by its colour? Let’s see together if this is possible.

Which colour fits you the best?

Do you wear pink on Wednesdays?

Colours are one of the most important elements of fashion and social recognition.

In the Middle Ages, colours were often synonym of social status. Blue and Purple often symbolized royalty and wealth, as they were some of the rarest colours: only a few plants, fruits and veggies can actually get these colours.

Even today colours are the first thing you see or filter for when choosing fashion items. They come way before materials, sometimes size or even price.

We all have that colour we feel so comfortable wearing. Which one is yours? Is it a toxic one?
Did you know that the dying process requires a lot of water? Each tone of fabric needs 200 tons of water (Fashion Revolution).

To make colours that are resistant to water, shiny and durable in time, many chemicals are used and often released into freshwater without any prevention.

Sadly, Fashion dyes are the second most polluter of freshwater: they contaminate 20000 tons of water each year (Advanced Science News). Is it possible to have less impact by just looking at the colour of an item?

To answer that question let’s see first the types of dyes available out there.

Is it possible to detect sustainable clothes by their color?Image Credit from left to right: Mean Girl; Green Peace (hazardous chemicals discharged into the Cihaur River, a tributary of the Citarum River)

What are Synthetic Dyes?

The least sustainable dyes are certainly the synthetic ones.

The most famous of them are the azo dyes.

Even if this kind of dye allows a stronger colour, this chemical is toxic as it contains aromatic amines.

Does your Wednesday Pink outfit contain these toxic chemicals?Maybe.

The most toxic pigments used are, the Blue made with Cobalt or the Yellow made with Zinc. They are linked to high probability of containing carcinogens.

These substances, and many other azo dyes, are harmful to your health and the environment.
Could you recognize them just by looking at an outfit?

Probably not. There are so many colours variations and chemicals out there that the only way to know if it is a toxic one would be for the brand to release more information about the chemical content.

Hopefully, legislation such as the REACH in Europe and the Proposition 65 in the US limit the amount of toxic chemicals allowed on materials, but it does not guarantee the manufacturing process especially if it happens out of these geographic areas.

Sadly, Greenpeace found traces of them in an area where big brands’ manufacture happened. Water in China was contaminated so much that it could cause cancer (Greenpeace).

One thing is sure! An alternative to the current method is necessary.

To push for a change, the Detox Campaign from Green peace has made a huge pressure on brands to improve the traceability of the chemicals used during the manufacturing process.

Many brands have since been collaborating with Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Foundation (ZDHC) in order to improve its chemicals choice and to become less toxic (Detoxing The Fashion Industry)

Could natural dyes be the solution? 

Is it possible to detect sustainable clothes by their color?
Image Credit from left to right: Kings of Indigo; Indigo powder

What are Natural Dyes?

Back to the basis.

Beetroot for purple, green from spinach, yellow from turmeric, pomegranate for black.

This is something we ‘’as humans’’ were doing well and kind of lost over time.

Natural pigments are – as the name claims – made from natural sources. Plants, Fruits, Veggies or seeds are common sources of natural dyes. Completely Toxic-free, this solution is really attractive. The most famous and the oldest used natural pigments are Indigo, used as blue and Logwood, used as purple.

However difficult to use them for a large production.

On an industrial scale, the production of natural pigments could have terrible consequences on the environment as the land required and maybe the chemicals to grow the crops could be a consequence. Natural dyes are meant for small productions. It would require too much land treatment to go mass.

#Is it possible to recognize natural dyes at first sight?

The naturally made colours are less strong than artificial ones and they shade faster. Washing it or letting it too much under the sun could accelerate the fading.

To improve longevity or the contrast of the naturally made colour some brands still use some chemicals or natural salts to fix it better into the textile. Substances such as Chrome, Tin, copper sulphate are the most commonly used chemical in order to achieve strong contrasting colours with natural dyes.

Isn’t it a contradiction? Are natural dyes therefore still considered a solution?

Don’t worry!

Natural ways to keep the colour and to wash those fragile pieces are possible. Washing it with salt or vinegar is a natural solution.

Is it possible to detect sustainable clothes by their color?
Image Credit from left to right: Pangaia; Sakura Powder

Which colours are the most sustainable then? 

Is it possible to recognize a sustainable item just by its colour?

Not really… Green is not a colour.

Please stop with the idea that sustainable colours have to be neutral.

Sustainable colours are most of the time in neutral tones such as white, beige or light pink not because the dyes are safer but simply because neutral tones will last longer and will remain timeless.

An item paint with natural pigment will be easy to recognize not by its colour but by its colour ‘’irregularity’’ which actually make each piece unique.

The shades could vary through the production and through time. Honestly, this is certainly the beauty of natural dyes. Too sad fast fashion does not agree with this characteristic.

You want to know which colours are the most sustainable?

#Undyed colours

It is pretty rare but it does exist. Items that actually keep the colour of its materials au naturel. The colours of these pieces are usually white, beige or light pink. Less is more right?

#Timeless tones

As you will wear them longer and will never go out of fashion. Don’t forget slow fashion is certainly one of the best solutions to make fashion sustainable.

Here 5 steps to create your own sustainable capsule wardrobe

#Natural dyes

Made from fruits, veggies and plants. Some natural dyes can be quite strong such as the Indigo blue use for jeans.

Find the perfect pair of Jeans sustainably dyed from Kings of Indigo.

#Certified chemicals shades

Natural dyes are not always the most sustainable colours if fixed with other toxic chemicals. One way to ensure no toxic substance touches your precious skin is to go for chemical certified items. The most famous one today is the Oeko-Tex standard. Any item certified by Oeko-Tex has been verified not to use toxic chemicals.

Have a look at Woron’s underwear certified Oeko-tex

#Dyes on natural materials

It is always more chemically intensive to dye plastic. Have you ever tried to draw on a plastic element? Way more difficult than to draw on paper right? The same is for clothes, as it is easier to dye on natural elements such as cotton, hemp or linen, less toxic chemicals will be required.

Find out which colour fits you the best from Pangaia

Ok, so we know this topic is quite harsh, but we don’t want you to stop having fun with colors. Make sure to create an account and let Renoon do the work of finding good options.

Now, we have decided to wear only sustainable colours on Wednesdays. Don’t know about you. 

What to read next

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