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Published: 06 August 2022

By Andy Ross

Dyes from seaweed

Natural dyes have always been a source of colour for fibres.

For more than a century artificial dyes, created in laboratories using heavy metals as catalysts, alongside acids, heat and energy, have been an increasing source of these colours. They come at a cost to the environment, and the textile industry is responsible for an estimated 20% of the pollution to clean water sources in the world. With the lack of clean water in some parts of the planet, it has become an urgent need to replace those polluting chemicals with something kinder and around the globe experiments have been going on to find alternative sources of colour. One company in Canada is using microorganisms to produce dyes in vivid hues by a fermentation process, while others are using bacteria as an experimental source of colour.

In Scotland, Crùbag is a textile design studio combined with a materials innovation laboratory, using the oceans as a source of inspiration. 10% of the profits from the company go into research and projects that teach people about the importance of the seas around us, and in one of their projects, the company is working with the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) to create natural dyes from seaweed

The benefit of natural dyes is not only in their production but also in their afterlife. Many textiles are thrown away at their perceived end of life. As the world becomes more aware of the effects of discarding massive quantities of textiles into landfill and dumps, so the emphasis is gradually shifting to making use of those textiles again. It could be that these natural dyes are more easily recycled; reclaimed from the original fibres to be reused in new production. Wouldn't that be a great leap forward. We could all feel more comfortable knowing that our clothes and fabrics are being reused and that their production is far less polluting than it currently is.