Let's talk: Sustainable dyes - with NAKED DYE founder Kasia Mijas-Galloway

Vegetable dyes: Fabric colouring that’s kind to the environment

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With so much emphasis lately on changing our lifestyles to become more eco-friendly, we’ve been thinking about what we might be able to do to play our part, and hopefully inspire you to do the same! There are so many little tidbits of advice to offer, whether it’s reducing the temperature of your washing machine, hang drying rather than tumble drying, or buying higher quality bedding and clothing items less often, it seems like there are no end of small changes we can make that added up will have a big impact on tackling the damage to our natural environment.

One area that’s particularly interesting to us is dye – after all, we do love our colour! Recently, we caught up with Kasia Mijas-Gallowway – founder of NAKED DYE – who makes completely natural, non-toxic dyes using food waste and plants. Historically, dyes have always been attained through the use of natural materials. It was during the 19th century that synthetic dyes were invented – stumbled across by accident by a British Chemist. This coincided with the industrialisation of the fabrics industry, allowing much faster production of colourful fabrics. With synthetic fabrics, however, came a number of nasty side effects that we are still suffering from today. Namely, the polluting of our rivers, vast water consumption, and unsafe working conditions for those who produce the dye.

If we can revert to natural ways of dying our fabrics, we’ll be able to reduce these harmful effects, and tackle other problems such as food-waste at the same time.

We discussed with Kasia the process of making her dyes, what her favourite colours are, and asked for some top tips to pass on to you! Here’s what she had to say.

Where do you start with natural dyes (what materials do you start with and how do you gather them?)

You really don’t need a lot to start experimenting with natural dyes. You can use any natural fabrics you have - cotton, linen, even leather! I source my fabrics from a trusted supplier that offers certified, organic products. It’s extremely important to make sure we buy fabrics with certificates as production can be really harmful to the environment and people in the textile industry.

Once you have your fabrics you need to prepare them for taking the dye, these stages are called scouring and mordanting.

Your natural dyes can come from your garden, your kitchen, or even a walk through the forest. We are surrounded by hidden pigments that can be extracted and applied to fabrics to produce a beautiful array of colours. I get my avocado stones from a local café to achieve dusky pink. The yellows and greens come from red onion skins that I gather from local groceries. Clay colour can be achieved by reusing your loose black tea as it’s still full of pigments even after brewing a strong cup of tea!

Are you limited in terms of what colours you can produce?

I have my favourite, trusted colours that I’m confident in achieving. There are still colours that I’m experimenting with, like a deep, coral red. Yes some colours are more difficult to achieve than others but there are no limits when it comes to nature!

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How do natural dyes behave in comparison to chemical dyes?

The main difference is colour fastness. Natural dyes will fade quicker if you don’t look after them - washing on a lower setting, drying away from direct sunlight and avoiding bleach will help preserve the colours. It’s all about caring for what you own, whether it’s naturally dyed or not. When thinking about chemical dyes I always think of people that work with them - how does it affect them, are they working in healthy conditions, does being exposed to chemicals affect their life. It’s easy to guess that they are not healthy and safe conditions to work in. Also, wearing clothes that have been dyed with chemical dyes - how does it affect my skin? It’s all about becoming more aware and asking questions! Understanding the difference between artificial and natural dyes opens your eyes on many issues.

Any dos and don’ts as to what you should or shouldn’t use natural dyes on?

Natural dyes will not work on synthetic fabrics like polyester for example. Or on dark, already dyed fabrics. When choosing your fabrics go for raw, natural or white.

What’s your favourite colour to make?

I love all of them but if I had to choose it would be the moss green. Or dusky pink. I don’t think I can choose one!

What types of items do you like to dye the most?

All my products are made after I’ve dyed pieces of fabric, but I really loved dyeing woolly socks - the colours were so different to what I achieved on fabrics, even though I followed my "recipes".

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After our conversation we’re itching to have a go and make some natural dyes of our own. Hopefully we’ve been able to inspire you, too! And, even if you don’t start dying all of your own fabrics, hopefully we’ve given you enough knowledge that will enable you to ask questions and look out for other sustainably dyed items.