Follow the fashion trend and learn to eco-dye your clothing

by | Oct 25, 2021

As awareness of climate change, human rights and the importance to protect biodiversity increases, more and more people are learning about eco-dyeing. There are plenty of blogs, YouTube videos and tutorials with instructions on how to dye your clothes with organic matter, including food waste.

Some of the benefits of eco-dyeing include connecting with nature, minimising clothing’s impact on the environment and building up knowledge of food, plants, fabrics and processes to create more considered, one-of-a-kind garments.

Eco-dyeing uses products from nature while many mass manufacturers of textiles and garments use harmful chemicals and heavy metals in their dyeing process. The industry produces potentially toxic metals, dyes, bleaching agents, and other pollutants, which cause water pollution and affect public health, including cardiovascular and respiratory effects, irritation and inflammation, carcinogenic, neurotoxic effects. A Water Witness International report, “How Fair Is Fashion’s Footprint” (published in August 2021) found in Africa:

Multiple examples of severe pollution caused by the textiles and apparel sector, because of untreated or partially treated industrial wastewater. The impacts of this pollution on downstream ecosystems, businesses and communities where many thousands of highly vulnerable people are forced to use this industrial effluent for domestic uses and irrigation are very significant.

In Lesotho, the Water Witness International researchers found a river visibly polluted with blue dye for denim jeans. And in samples taken from Tanzania’s Msimbazi river in Dar es Salaam meanwhile tested a pH of 12 – the same as bleach – near a textiles factory (Water Witness International 2021).

The authors conclude that the fashion industry competes with communities and nature for access to scarce water, and that in some cases, factory needs are prioritised over the human right to water.

For people interested in minimising the impact of colouring their clothing, natural dyeing is the best option after not dyeing at all. The process of dyeing naturally is currently preferred by sustainability conscious artisans like botanical dye studio Beagle + Basset, the craftspeople at Natural Yarns  and small businesses like Hoven.

You can learn, offline, about eco-dyeing and its importance from workshops. Recently, Veld & Sea co-hosted a dye workshop led with artist Belinda Faulkner. After attending an eco-dye workshop hosted by textile artist Ira Bekker, Belinda embarked on her own inspiring journey of natural colour. The workshop she held at Veld & Sea is an organic progression.

Roushanna Gray, founder of Veld & Sea, says eco-dyeing is “a fun and beautiful way to upcycle clothing into an environmentally-friendly and sustainable form of fashion’.

Belinda believes education is integral to sustainability strategies and she loves sharing her knowledge about plants, fabrics, mordants and dyes. She demonstrates botanical printing on paper and textiles at her workshops. Belinda says people who are interested in slow living find the process charming. ‘It is time-consuming and isn’t easy to scale without compromising the integrity of the process.’  She uses locally available plants for dyeing and her usual process involves reusing and recycling ingredients and materials: she uses harvested rainwater, reused wooden dowels and string, and creates iron acetate mordant from rusted items, vinegar and water.

Belinda’s summarised description of botanical eco-dyeing is:

  • You bind the plant pigment to the fabric, the plant material is soaked in an iron acetate solution and then placed on the fabric.
  • The fabric is rolled around a stick, tube or bundled on its own and bound with string to create a tightly wrapped bundle. Eco-printing is also known as contact printing and ensuring a tightly wrapped bundle is important.
  • The bundle is boiled or steamed, which usually takes two to three hours.
  • Plant material contains pigments and tannins that vary according to season, provenance, soil types, age and freshness and climate.
  • Dye baths made from plant materials can be used to boil the bundles in. Steaming (where the bundle is not immersed) gives a cleaner print, whereas dye baths give a smoky tone.

Belinda recently held an eco-dye workshop on 3 October. If you are inspired by Belinda’s journey, follow on her Instagram and / contact her on to arrange. Bespoke eco printing workshop. “I have by no means mastered eco printing in its fullness, and every print is a journey of discovery”.

To support the shift to natural, environmentally friendly alternatives, we also recommend these brands (curated by Nabeela Karim) that are using natural ways to colour garments:

Beagle and Basset

Using only plants to dye their fabrics, Beagle and Basset slows down this fast-paced industry to give love to their products. Plants used are seasonal (waste from flower industries) so the colours of their fabrics vary throughout the year. By using the Earth’s natural recourses of dyes and fabrics, Beagle and Basset’s products are also biodegradable.

Botanical Nomad

Using eco-printing to spice up pre-loved clothing, Botanical Nomad reimagines patterned clothing. Leaves and flowers are pressed to leave the print on the fabric. They also use botanicals as dyes to add colour these items. Ira Bekker who is the artist behind the brand that does “eco-printing, natural dyeing, botanical explorations, slow-stitching, nomadic arts”.


Mozambican entrepreneur  and textile designer Wacy Zacarias launched Woogui when she realised that many African textiles were not made locally and therefore did not accurately embody African traditions. Both Woogui and its sister company Karingana Textiles use local indigenous plants for dyes, embroidery and weaving to create sustainable authentic African pieces. Wacy said in an interview for Twyg, “We should care about the clothing we wear and the layers that are on us all day, every day.”

Studio Candor

By using deadstock fabric, discarded by large corporations, Studio Candor is minimising its carbon footprint. While most of the fabrics used are already dyed, but whenever they upcycle garments that require a dash of colour, they use a small-batch natural dying process using ingredients such as turmeric.

Inyoni Art

Kristen McClarty is a printmaker and botanical textile artist who lives in, and is inspired by, the seaside village, Kommetjie. She imprints nature, using naturally occurring pigments in plants onto fabric, using no dye, ink or chemicals and creating no toxic waste. Kristen produces one-off botanical contact prints on natural fabrics.

  • Images were suppled by Belinda Faulkner’s and include images from the workshop at Belinda’s Veld & Sea workshop


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