Waterless Dyeing: Cleaning Up Fashion

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The fashion industry comes under fire for its wasteful practices on such a frequent basis that it’s no surprise that the textile dyeing industry is also catching flak. Now, this isn’t undeserved flak mind you; textile dyeing is dirty and wasteful. According the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, trillions of liters of fresh water and tons of chemicals are used and then dumped into rivers around the world to produce the fabrics we wear every day. As we’ve seen in the past, once any pollution enters the waterways, the entire globe is affected. Well, three companies are working to combat these wasteful practices by developing waterless dyeing technology.

AirDye Solutions is Transforming the Industry

AirDye Solutions’ tagline states the company is “transforming textile coloration and sourcing.” The company’s method saves 95 percent of the water used in traditional dyeing by using a patented water-free printing process. Broken down, the method saves about 45 gallons of water per garment produced. It seems pretty extreme that an average of 45 gallons of water is required for traditional textile dyeing, but the fact of the matter is that traditional dyeing is far less efficient than these new technologies.

AirDye will print one or both sides of the fabric using its proprietary printing method—depending on its customers’ desires—and can print solid color or patterned fabric. Everything from resilient, athletic stretch fabric to delicate chiffon can be dyed using AirDye’s processes. Overall, one of these machines reduces the energy used by 86 percent, and greenhouse gasses are reduced 84 percent, illustrating just how much more efficient new technology is, compared to traditional dyeing techniques.

ColorZen Embraces Using Less

ColorZen is all about using fewer resources, including energy, to make textile dyeing more eco-friendly. By pretreating cotton before it is dyed, the ColorZen technology “makes the process both efficient and environmentally friendly.” Overall, the company claims that its process uses 75 percent less energy and 90 percent less water than traditional dyeing processes. Plus, ColorZen doesn’t require any dangerous and toxic chemicals to prepare the fabric for dye. That’s a winning combination, if you ask me.

DyeCoo Textile Systems’ Surprising Method

I was pretty shocked to hear that DyeCoo Textile Systems uses carbon dioxide to dye fabrics … I had no idea CO2 could be so useful. The Dutch company uses high-pressure CO2 to dry-dye fabric, using carbon dioxide that originates from other industrial processes that are recycled for use in the DyeCoo machine. Both Nike and Adidas have moved forward with the technology, and Ikea is prepared to follow suit.

A Small Step Forward

So the question is, will waterless dyeing technology clean up the fashion industry? Right now, it’s simply too soon to tell if these companies will be able to help revolutionize the industry. According to Yale University, the countries in the direst need of revolutionary technology are China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, and Thailand. It doesn’t take a genius to see that these countries are a hotbed for cheap fashion—garments produced inexpensively and sold at low prices. Will companies in these regions be willing to fork over funds for new production methods? I wish I could tell you yes, but I simply don’t know.

The machines developed by AirDye, ColorZen, and DyeCoo are expensive on the front end, and even if companies save money in the long run, convincing them to take the initial leap to a new system might be asking too much. Clearly, larger companies like Nike, Adidas, and Ikea are into making a change, but I wonder if smaller fashion producers—who are impacted by large investments on a more significant level—will be as willing to do so.

The other factor to remember is water-based cloth dyeing is a centuries-old technique that has, quite simply, been tried and has tested true. It may be bad for the environment, but it works. Would smaller producers be willing to “risk” their company’s status on something so new? It doesn’t matter that there’s little risk involved; the perceived risk is overwhelming, and I wonder how scary it is to change something like this at the first stage of clothing production.

I know, I know: I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered. The waste and pollution caused by the fashion industry are something that we can no longer afford to ignore. I, for one, am really pleased to see companies taking steps toward using less water—the shortage is a real concern around the globe—fewer chemicals, and energy to produce the things we wear. This small step forward is one that will, in the long run, be pivotal to revolutionizing the industry. Here’s hoping that everyone will be on board.

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Annie Perkins

Dog lover, margarita enthusiast, and trivia night queen; Annie Perkins loves to share advice on living better. Her early experiences on hiking trails serve as a foundation for her love of the outdoors and the desire to keep nature intact. She writes her articles with an eye towards the inspirational, with a few laughs for good measure

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