Interview with Bosco Henriques

Face2Face
Bosco Henriques
Bosco Henriques
Director
Biodye India Pvt Ltd
Biodye India Pvt Ltd

We are working with NGOs to grow dye and fibre-yielding plants

Bosco Henriques is one of India's most famous molecular biologists. His Biodye India Pvt Ltd is a leading name in natural dyes. Henriques shares his thoughts with Meher Castelino in an interview for Fibre2Fashion.

Bosco Henriques is a Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular biology. His M.Sc. thesis was on "Redox Potential Variations in Escherichia coli B: Involvement of Oxygen and Ammonia Couples," while the Ph.D. thesis was titled "Nitrate Reductase from Chloronemal Cell Cultures of Funaria hygrometrica: An Immunochemical Investigation." He has had several publications with other renowned experts that cover various topics in his field of expertise. Henriques has five patents to his credit. His professional experience since 1976 has been varied-from heading different projects to conducting workshops and consulting. As Director of Biodye India Pvt Ltd since 2008, he is responsible for R&D mechanisation and scaling up of natural dyeing technology on cotton yarn. 

Excerpts from the interview: 

How did Biodye India come about?

Biodye was a culmination of two projects we did for the Union ministry of environment and forests. In the first project, we identified over 100 plants whose sustainable parts (leaves and fruits) could be used to dye cotton in hues that were fast to light, wash, crock and perspiration. In the second, we developed methods to grow dye-plants, make long shelf-life dye powders, dye yarn and fabric made from cotton, flax, jute, viscose, silk and wool in the entire spectrum of hues, shades and tints using only non-toxic and biodegradable inputs. The wastewater was used for irrigation, and the sludge was composted and used as manure. The project culminated in a fashion show that demonstrated the viability of natural dyes. My colleague-the late Ann Shankar-and I decided that if we wanted to make natural dyeing sustainable, we needed to go private rather than depend on grant funding and hence Biodye India Pvt Ltd was started. What are the different products that your company manufactures? How long does it take to dye the fabrics? We are a dye-house that dyes all yarn, fabrics and apparel made from natural fibres supplied by our principals (clients). They weave the yarn into fabric, rugs and tapestries, and convert the fabric into apparel, home furnishings and accessories. Scouring, bleaching and mordant dyeing take two days, and vat dyeing (indigo) takes as many days as the number of dips plus two (one for scouring and another for final washing). We can dye 1 ton of yarn/ fabric/apparel per month. 

We have a leaf shredder, pulveriser, sifter and blender that enable us to produce dyes from vegetal matter. We make dye powder for our internal use as we do not trust most suppliers of natural dyes. As previously stated, we specialise in dyeing (job-work) and link our clients to suppliers of yarn and weavers.

How did Biodye India come about?

What are the different products that your company manufactures? How long does it take to dye the fabrics?

We are a dye-house that dyes all yarn, fabrics and apparel made from natural fibres supplied by our principals (clients). They weave the yarn into fabric, rugs and tapestries, and convert the fabric into apparel, home furnishings and accessories. Scouring, bleaching and mordant dyeing take two days, and vat dyeing (indigo) takes as many days as the number of dips plus two (one for scouring and another for final washing). We can dye 1 ton of yarn/ fabric/apparel per month. 

We have a leaf shredder, pulveriser, sifter and blender that enable us to produce dyes from vegetal matter. We make dye powder for our internal use as we do not trust most suppliers of natural dyes. As previously stated, we specialise in dyeing (job-work) and link our clients to suppliers of yarn and weavers.

What are the different raw materials used to get the colours and how many shades are used?

We use natural indigo for blue, bottle greens and purples; regenerative vines of Indian or Naga madder for red and oranges; lac for red/pink and purples; katha and tea dust for brown; iron vinegar for black, grey, olive green and violet; leaves from 3-4 plants for yellow, earth hues, orange and bottle green.

How do you keep the colours environment-friendly?

We use enzymes (not caustic) for scouring; peroxide (not hypochlorite) for bleaching; alum and iron vinegar as mordants (chromium, copper and tin are not used); sustainable parts of plants (not bark, wood, roots and wild flowers) and lac as dye source; are the only synthetic carbonaceous compounds used and are non-toxic and biodegradable) are employed; all other inputs are natural ingredients and non-toxic inorganic compounds (at concentrations used). As previously stated, they precipitate in our wastewater tanks, the sludge is composted and used as manure, and the water is used to irrigate coconut and cashew trees.

Please tell us a little about the fabrics from Nagaland, and how you decided to work with them.

Naga weavers use the loin-loom (back-strap loom) to weave fabrics for their use and such a loom was commonly used by all tribes in Northeast India. While the tribes in the other states have, by and large, switched over to using flying shuttle-frame looms, the Nagas, proud of their tradition, continue to use the loin-loom. The production is slow; however, the designs obtainable on a loin-loom cannot be normally woven on a shuttle-loom. I am now associated with a Tata Trusts-funded programme to preserve this tradition and expand the markets for their products. At present, the Nagas use acrylic to weave their products. I am working with a group to reintroduce cotton spinning, dyeing and loin-loom weaving. It will take a few years to have sufficient amounts of tree cotton and natural dye plants to ensure the production of a 100 per cent green fabric.

Which are the companies, designers, brands who use your products/fabrics? What is your turnover?

Oyyo (Sweden), Botanica Tinctoria and Maiwa (Canada), Seek Collective and Industry of All Nations (the US), Women Weave, Lady Bamford Foundation, GoodEarth, Bodice, Amba, Wendell Rodricks (India), etc. Our turnover is approximately ₹1 crore.

Why and how did you pick the site for your company?

Ann Shankar nee Glyn, a keen student of textiles history, visited the libraries in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi and many more in England to compile a list of over 500 plants that had been recorded by British botanists, whose parts were used as textile dyes. During this study, she was aghast to learn that her direct ancestor, the first governor-general of India, had ordered this study in order to transfer the intellectual property of Indian dyers to England. In our first project, we worked with Blatter Herbarium of St Xavier's College, Mumbai whose director had studied the flora in the Western Ghats around Amboli in Sawantwadi taluka. Over 300 plants recorded by Ann were found in this region. Most importantly, they knew the location of the plants, and this enabled us to quickly collect over 200 specimens and identify more than 100 of them as sustainable sources of dyes. We set up our dye house at the base of the Ghats as Mumbai and Goa were easily reachable.

What are the steps that Biodye takes on the environment front?

We have shown that natural dyes can compete with synthetic dyes in range and performance. By shifting to natural dyeing, the pollution wrought by the use of synthetics dyes can slowly be reduced. We also encourage those around us to cultivate trees and adopt organic farm practices. However, in our backyard, economic factors push farmers towards conventional farming practices as the soil is of poor quality. We are therefore working with NGOs in Assam and Nagaland to grow dye and fibre-yielding plants. 

Sustainability is very important to us. We will be moving towards greater sustainability in our use of energy. We cater to clients who subscribe to green and slow fashion. 

Published on: 29/11/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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