The impact on the environment of our patterns of consumption (food, fuel and fashion) is complex. How to reduce food waste, amongst other changes in the way we live concern us all as we navigate the choppy waters of sustainability and mindful living. We know that fifth to a quarter of the food bought by UK household consumers amounts to a staggering 70% of all food waste, whilst the remaining 30% is happening in the hospitality & food service (HaFS), food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors.
At the same time, we are keenly aware of the environmental impact of fashion, especially from the toxic soup of chemical dyes on textile workers’ health, Fashion Revolution, the world's largest fashion activism platform born out of the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013, sums up how the soil and the water carry the true cost of colour.
Whilst natural dye would be a great alternative, in reality, it cannot, on its own, satisfy the ever-growing demand for textile dye. The 1859 Neel Bidroho or the Indigo Revolt in Bengal is an historic reminder of the ills of turning agricultural farms into growing dye crops. The tension between subsistence farming and cash cropping is no less in today’s world, with its ever-decreasing resources.
So on the one hand we have a mountain of food waste and on the other a crisis of dyestuff in the textiles industry. What if the mutually complementary slow food and slow fashion movements worked to address an environmental problem and collaborated to create natural dye? With the right will and organization is it not entirely conceivable that the mountains of food waste can become part of the solution, bypassing the reliance on farming or “foraging” from fragile eco-systems for natural dyestuff? As sustainability becomes a mainstream concern, we need to find more innovative and engaging ways to deal with the surplus, re-evaluate “waste” and alter our perception round disposability.
When it comes to natural dye, adherence to best practice is critical. The use of highly toxic metallic agents (tin, copper, iron and chrome) for mordanting even though they help achieve brilliant shades, needs to stop. If life is about making choices, then accepting the fact that you can’t have super vibrant shades from natural dyes is not really a big deal. Yet, the willingness to accept this compromise can make a real difference to the environment.
Fruit and vegetable scraps from kitchens and surplus from other sources is an absolute resource. Although not all vegetable matter is useful as dye, it is best to work with those that produce substantive dyes, that is, dyes that are reliably colour fast and wash fast.
Dyestuff which are high in tannin require no mordanting, so avocado stones and skins, pomegranate skins, tea, coffee, wall nut shells, to name a few, are ideal candidates for the job and produce the most wonderful colours.
With collaborations with the food industry, natural dyes can safely move from the realm of the hedgerow hobby craft a commercial proposition and be part of the response to the crisis of the fashion industry.
At Juniper & Bliss we collect kitchen scraps from local restaurants to use as dye.