Dyeing Henri with Natural Dyes

At Henri we’ve sourced natural dyes for many of our collections, however our Summer 2021 collection is the first collection that is 100% naturally dyed. We wanted to delve into the history of natural dyes and share our findings with our customers.

Colour is an essential experience of humanity.

Creating pigments from harvested and foraged materials is an ancient practice. For thousands of years cultures across the world used natural dyes until the first chemical dyes were developed in the late 1800’s. The innate human appreciation and attraction toward colour has shaped our varied histories and vibrant cultures. Woad, a British flower used to create shades of blue certainly influenced the multifaceted use of the colour across Britain that we see in history books today. Similarly, the colour red from the Mignonette tree has been used for millennia across Asia and Africa, instantly recognisable as henna to dye hair and skin. It is evident even through our own personal associations with colour, that throughout time and place, the experience of colour is an essential experience of humanity, and natural dyes are in close relationship to this.

Before the 1800’s, plants, fruits and vegetables were used all over the world, cultivated for their vast array of colours and tones. Today, the vast use of chemical dye in the fashion industry has devastating consequences on the environment and workers. Synthetic dyes contain chemicals that pollute water supplies, spoil rivers and lands. They increase risk of cancers, infertility and death in those employed by the textile industry, an industry with an 80% female led workforce. There is a lack of discussion surrounding chemical dyes which enables greenwashing. Fast fashion brands label organic cotton t-shirts as sustainable, yet they are dyed using toxic ingredients that desecrate the environment irreversibly, as well as the welfare of the animals and people who live amongst the industry’s tired lands. Studies have shown that chemical dyes harm the wearer too, causing allergic reactions, decreasing organ function and increasing neurotoxicity. 

Just as colour is intrinsic to the human experience, so is returning to the land to find answers in nature.

Examples of rivers running red due to overspills from local dye facilities leave a stain on our minds, and finding ways to lessen the detrimental impact upon those involved has become increasingly pressing. Just as colour is intrinsic to the human experience, so is returning to the land to find answers in nature. Reestablishing the processes of natural dyeing that have been being used all over the world for thousands of years, gives us hope that we can mop up this mess. 

Where chemical dyes offer easily repeatable, and cheaper results, they cannot compete with the charm of using plant dyes when sat next to the repercussions. Natural dyes require a breadth of expertises in design and colour, to foraging and herbalism. A symbiosis with the land you reside upon; a practice once revered in historic cultures. We are becoming ever more aware of not only the importance of returning to less impactful ways of living, but the advantages of doing so. As we are drawn to colour and nature, we are also drawn to community, and concern for the wellbeing of those that make our clothes drives our desire to seek kinship through our purchases. 

We are becoming ever more aware of not only the importance of returning to less impactful ways of living, but the advantages of doing so. 

Plant dyes offer a solution to the chemical romance we see in mass production today, as they provide an environmentally sound solution. Working with natural dyes allows us to use our waste materials more efficiently, reduce water wastage and improve the circularity of our dyeing processes. The cultivation of bio-regional dyeing facilities can simultaneously support the propagation of wild life, increase the value of our garments and enrich the experiences of those involved in producing them. Working with the environment to dye our clothes offers an opportunity to revolutionise the garment industry for a cleaner, brighter future. 

Words by Haylee Lunt