Saturday, 8 May 2010

Where does your clothing's colour come from?

  There are several laws that require clothing labels to detail information about textile fibre composition. This makes life easier  for end consumers who care about the fibres used in their clothing. The information not required by law is the dye composition. With imports from developing countries flooding the market, I feel consumers should be made aware of how their bright red organic cotton T-shirt became bright red!

  I like to classify dyes as either natural or synthetic dyes. Compounds extracted from plants (or other naturally occurring sources) can be called natural dyes. Synthetic dyes are those that came into being  through technology. Considering two of the world's most polluting industries are synthetic dye manufacture and dye use, we have good reason to worry.

  Without a solid background in chemistry, the complete understanding of azo verses azo-free synthetic dyes is a little difficult, but basically azo dyes are synthetic dyes containing nitrogen atoms. Many  azo textile dyes can cause hypersensitivity and trigger existing allergies by being absorbed into the body through skin contact. Toxic dye production and use has already taken it's toll on rivers and  waterways in some developing countries that export to the rest of the  world. I am not convinced that third world dye houses are totally  unaware of the effect of allowing toxic waste to enter the local water  system. Education will always be important in helping to combat industrial pollution, but lack of enforcement still allows a large number of dye houses to continue putting profit above environmental issues.

  I have heard claims that azo-free dyes are 100% safe for the end user  and the environment. I certainly agree that the removal of azo  dyes will reduce the risk of health problems to the end user, but I am yet to be convinced that an exhausted synthetic azo-free dye bath will not have a negative effect on the environment if dumped into the water system. Natural dyes, on the other hand, are much safer to dispose of after use without damaging the earth.

  Sadly, it is left to the consumer to research all the facts. I still find it strange that organic textiles have already gained popularity, but little to no thought is given by the average consumer into the dyeing process. Surely these two issues should go hand in hand. At sorazora we believe in providing as much information as possible regarding fibres and dyes.

The above photo shows the Bagmati River flowing through central Kathmandu. Taken in January this year, it illustrates the problem of pollution caused by human, industrial and household waste.