When you hear the word 'chemical', what's the first thing that comes to mind? Nothing good that's for sure. Chemicals get a bad rap, but not all chemicals are bad! From the wise words of Miguel Sanchez on Carved in Blue, "It’s not the product itself; it’s the way you use it in all cases." However, with 1.7 million tons of chemicals going into denim production a year, I wanted to cover some of the really cool natural alternatives to synthetics.
San Francisco biotech firm Tinctorium believes that the answer to synthetic indigo is genetically engineered bacteria to mirror the way the Japanese indigo plant, Polygonum Tinctorium, makes and holds its color. Pili is another company that is working to replace harsh chemicals with biofabricated organisms. Pili says that its microbial fermentation process can save 100 tonnes of petroleum and 10 tonnes of toxic chemicals per tonne of product. Their process uses about 5x less water and 10x less energy because microbes work at room temperature!
The great thing about fermentation is that the base unit is sugar, which is easily available and requires no major infrastructure to produce or refine. And, as the Founder of Colourfix points out in BBC's article, "We know that with fermentation, scaling up ends up being a fairly cheap activity - otherwise, beer wouldn't be as available as it is."
This past year, Tonello released Wake, which I was able to see at Kingpins Show Amsterdam this past October. Wake is a newly-developed natural dyeing system that uses only organic and fully compostable raw materials. It uses plants and vegetable waste, such as flowers, berries, and roots, which are left to dry and infuse, without harmful chemical additives. Using it is as easy as making an herbal tea and represents a real paradigm shift in the dyeing process! I also wanted to note Tonello's new web series, The Laundry (R)Evolution that shows you exactly how some of this technology works. Achroma is also experimenting with natural dyes with their range of Earth Colours. These high performing natural dyes are made from non-edible agricultural or herbal industries waste such as leaves or nutshells (ex. oak, maple, clay). Earth Colors' dyes are fully traceable from the natural waste material all the way to the store thanks to new smart technology!
Kitotex is another dye technology that uses 30% less energy, 50% less water, and 70% fewer chemicals in the dyeing process. It uses 'chitosan', which is a polymer obtained by recycling the hard outer skeleton of shellfish, or food industry byproduct. It is fully biodegradable and after the production process, it actually helps purify the discharged water. Not to mention its antibacterial, anti-static and anti-mite properties!
V Sizing, on the other hand, is a vegetal sizing compound used in the dyeing process and serves as a vegan alternative to Kitotex by using food waste. It is 100% biodegradable and non-toxic and could replace hazardous chemicals like PVA to ensure a micro-plastics free dye process.
*Sizing ingredients help dyes bond to fabric
Elements of the Earth
Ozone is also a common method used for bleaching denim without the use of harsh chemicals. Tonello launched O-Bleach, which eliminates the use of potassium permanganate and chlorine, essentially creating a bleach without bleach! This is possible thanks to the All-in-One system, a single machine that contains the most recent generation of finishing technologies: ECOfree 2, NoStone®, UP and Core. Boyish Jeans is one brand using this new tech!
The way ozone generally works is that it converts oxygen to ozone gas then once the jeans are rinsed, turned back into oxygen that will be released back into the environment.
Candiani's N-Denim line uses nitrogen in the dyeing process and significantly reduces the use of chemical agents, as it only uses 1/2 dyeing baths instead of the 7 traditional baths. Nitrogen delays the oxidation of the indigo application process which increases the level of which the yarns can absorb the dye. This process saves around 4 tons of chemicals a year and eliminates the need for hydrosulfites!
Dry Ice finishing is one of the newer technologies out there that is a chemical-free, waterless finishing method and requires only two minutes to treat a pair of jeans. That means it also saves a significant amount of energy compared to traditional methods.
Dry Indigo® by Tejidos Royo is a responsible foam dyeing method, that uses 100% less water, 89% fewer chemicals, 65% reduced energy usage, and zero water discharge. Fibre2Fashion explains that the foam is made from a watery solution, which includes a foaming agent and a carrier for the dyestuff. The indigo dye is then transferred to yarns in an oxygen-deprived environment sealed by a nitrogen hood. Pretty revolutionary if you ask me! You can see this tech being rolled out in Wrangler's new products.
I've mentioned Officina+39 in previous blog posts, but one of their stand out dyeing methods is called Recycrom. Recycrom is a revolutionary sustainable dyestuffs range, using recycled clothes, textile scraps, and fibrous material. Officina has developed a unique technology that takes the fibers, pulverizes them, and turns them into powder. It is made from 100% recycled materials which are my favorite!
There is a lot that goes into getting that perfect shade of blue, but I hope this opened up your eyes to the many different ways the industry can color our jeans more sustainably! Until next time, stay diligent friends.