I love the surprises of the seasonal and annual natural dye colors. While natural dye color can be generally predictable, variations occur based on many factors. Like wine, natural dye color is influenced by growing conditions: soil; weather; location. This is what viticulturists call terroir. Terroir affects wine flavor on one’s palate and in the same way affects the color palette in a dye. And like wine, each variety of dye plant has a vintage that’s individual to the area and varies, beautifully, year to year.
Color is also influenced by external conditions: the water; processing; and any extra additions before or after the dying process, whether intentional or unintentional. This is akin to the winemaking process.
Fast Fashion vs Slow Fashion
One reason synthetic dyes became so popular in the nineteenth century was because of the very inconsistencies that make natural dyes so unique. Producers wanted the same predictable color, and they wanted it accessible everywhere.
“Fast fashion,” like fast food, creates identical consumables that are toxically produced, and will often fall short of their intention, often falling apart and discarded within a year or so. Recently, there’s been a growing trend towards “slow fashion,” where clothing is appreciated for many years, and the accompanying maturations that occur, as with aging wines, are appreciated. Your leather jacket becomes softer as the years go by and your jeans fade to the perfect blue.
All of our textiles can be like this: natural dyes are beautiful when they are made, but over time color changes occur (including fading or ph shifts) that make the garment even more interesting. Fibershed, a movement that promotes locally made clothing, from labor to dye to fiber, is developing all California-made jeans, created from California cotton and locally grown indigo, and they have a much softer texture than their fast fashion counterparts.
Locally-made and artisan-made and -dyed clothing is longer lasting. This is due to its land-based creation process and has the added benefit of not exploiting the people making it. It also has the bonus of not producing an abundance of toxins while being made. Synthetic dyes generate large amounts of pollution when used to color clothing and regrettably contaminate adjacent waterways and the ground in the process.
Liken slow fashion’s pace to a fine wine, versus fast fashion’s mass produced grape juice timeline. It has a story, and you, as the wearer, have a connection to the land it’s from. Altogether, it’s a much more satisfying experience.
As I work with the same dyes year after year, I notice differences. Even within a season, color can be different. Ironbark Eucalyptus, for example, seems to need a lot of heat on the tree to produce reds. In my experience, the sunniest side of the tree, in the hottest part of the summer, provides the darkest reds, while the other side of the tree—or even the same side, just a few weeks earlier—produces gold or orange. I’m looking forward to seeing how our recent wet winter will influence the color this summer.
I created local dialect, my textile brand, to highlight the specific origin of the colors used in the resulting creations. But I realized I could do more, so I decided to list the vintage year of their provenance as well. Time and place. Why shouldn’t we know when and where our favorite clothes hail from? It’s the best way to know how far we’ve come.