Will 50% of all textiles be naturally dyed by 2040?

Nearly all textile dye is synthetic nowadays. Initiatives to work with natural dyes had little success over the past years. But colour manufacturer Rubia Natural Colors claims the textile dyes from renewable sources will soon be used in the same volumes as synthetic dyes.

A few years ago the trend forum EMOTION at MoOD+Indigo was completely dyed in 100% natural colours from Rubia Natural Colors. This was the first time such a large volume of fabric was dyed. It was not easy, but the result was beautiful. Gorgeous even. So, we assumed there was a market for natural colors in textile industry.

But Rubia was confronted with a hesitating market. Despite all media attention, there was little demand. A similar scenario was seen at Desso. Desso was one of the believers. They produced a series of beautiful designs and received large amounts of free publicity. But Desso also dropped out. The volume market apparently still determines whether a product will survive or not.

Natural colors are maturing
Technically, natural colours are ready for the market, according to their manufacturers. Additionally, nearly the entire spectrum can be covered. And the richness of those colours often exceeds those of synthetic ones. Specifically when it comes to dyeing natural yarns.

The colour pallet of Le Corbusier, for example, was hard to reproduce synthetically. Because of the authenticity the foundation chose to look for natural pigments for the Le Corbusier wall paints. But for wall coverings this turned out to be a step too far. Highend wallpaper company Arte International did the job with synthetic colours.

The creed of Ikea
The JOFRID project by Ikea is a collection of curtains and throws that have been dyed with textile dye from vegetable waste. Doing this Ikea claims to be entering the circular economy. Their site reads: “The use of agricultural waste to create dyes is one example of how IKEA is working together with partners to innovate textile dyeing techniques, to make the process more sustainable.”

We all know that the new marketing  buzzword is ‘circulair’. Not a day goes by without the media writing about this new hype and as a result the companies comply. The final say in this will be from the consumer of course. Ikea claims that ecology and economy can go hand in hand. Is it a publicity stunt? Or is it the signal that the trend of circular economy has passed the point of significance and is now ready to grow independently?

25 years later
Meanwhile Rubia Natural Colors relaunched and advocates that half of all textile dyes will be of renewable origin within 25 years. Colours made available through nature, like dyer’s madder (Rubia tinctorum or meekrap). Originally it was used in the near east to produce red dyes. Traces of it’s use where found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, in Pompei and in ancient Corinth. Ever since the 14th century madder has been cultivated in Zeeland (the Netherlands) and was renowned throughout Europe.

Next wave industry trend or a wildcard?
It takes a change in mindset to have natural colours permeate the market. Or a sales market that is not concerned with the additional cost. Or a change in buyer’s behavior.

Presuming that natural colours will become as important as synthetic colours sounds a bit like drawing a wildcard right now. The probability is low, but the impact could be high.


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