For GOTS certification, every link in the chain from gin to store has to be GOTS-certified. Our dye house is not GOTS-certified as most of our customers weave their fabrics on handlooms. It is nigh impossible to GOTS certify khadi spinners and handloom weavers. Our certification will only add to the cost of manufacture without providing the necessary certification to the end customer. Our clients also self-certify. Most of them hire professional photographers to document our operations and record our story which is presented to their clients.
What about your dyes that promise colourfastness and a huge shade palette? What about costs?
We can dye most of the Pantone shades and meet fastness criteria as required by GOTS. We are expensive as we maintain a large inventory to compensate for batch-to-batch variation in colour properties. The raw material itself is expensive. E.g. unadulterated natural indigo is approximately ₹3,000 per kg for 35 per cent strength. Lac is about ₹6,000 per kg. Powdered madder is around ₹500 per kg. We use expensive laboratory, food or pharma grade inputs instead of cheaper technical grade products. We dye in a month what most synthetic dye houses dye in a day. Our labour has to be retained irrespective of demand. All this adds to our cost.
What would be needed to make natural dyes as popular as their synthetic counterparts?
Educate the customer (which most of our foreign clients do), mechanise dyeing and grow more raw materials so as to reduce the cost of dyed product.
Do you have enough resources to produce in bulk?
There is a shortage of cultivated raw material because of the lack of sustained demand. We are working with farmer groups in Nagaland to grow madder. Only when we consume more than 1-2 tonnes/annum can we entice farmer interest and afford to support this activity. Similarly, approximately 1-2 tonnes of unadulterated natural indigo is produced per annum. The rest of it is often adulterated and therefore cheap. We need to improve the agro-technology of indigo cultivation (better varieties) and extraction (mechanisation) to improve yields and reduce cost. Iron-vinegar fermentation needs to be scaled up. We have chosen leaves of shrubs for yellow and earth colours. These can be easily and quickly cultivated when demand rises.
Do you think Indian consumers, designers and brands are aware of green fashion?
The youth of India are aware of green fashion and what it can do for the environment, but they are not sensitised sufficiently to act upon the awareness and pay more for the product. Indian designers use our services mostly for the ramp and exhibits, and not to stock their stores.
Please share your thoughts about pollution.
Synthetic dyes are designed to be recalcitrant. Nearly all of them are non-biodegradable. Many could be allergenic and toxic, if tested. The synthetic auxiliaries used are non-biodegradable and often toxic. Hence, the sludge from a synthetic dye manufacturing factory and synthetic dye-house are classified as hazardous and have to be disposed of in lined pits.
Different solutions are needed for the smallscale dyer and large dye-houses. Solutions currently available will require discipline by the dyers to separate the biodegradable (soap and detergents) streams, the non-biodegradable streams (dyes and most auxiliaries), and the rinse water streams. Biodegradable streams can be treated in anaerobic chambers and disposed of in soak pits, whereas the non-biodegradable streams need proper treatment. Treating the non-biodegradable streams using easy-to-use, low-tech methods is challenging. If precipitation, absorption or oxidation methods are employed, bulky sludge is produced which needs to be properly dried and disposed of, either by burial in sites that accept hazardous waste or in high temperature incinerators (the ash has to be buried). Reverse osmosis is technically too challenging to operate at the artisan level (even here, solid waste needs to be properly disposed of). The temptation to improperly bury the sludge or dispose it off for other use (concrete) has to be resisted.
Textile industry effluent is a notch below the most difficult effluents to treat and that can be done if sufficient capital is available to install the complete treatment plant, and if margins are available to absorb the operating costs. Besides being capital and operationally expensive, it is also energy intensive and technically demanding to operate. The concentrated effluents are very corrosive, and the equipment has to be made from titanium or an expensive moly-steel. The treatment process converts polluting liquids into solid pollutants (that have to be buried in secure waterproof lined landfills) or gaseous pollutants (carbon dioxide, NOx and SOx); the first would add to global warming and the latter two would need to be scrubbed out from the flue gases. As the market for fast fashion is changing, dye houses are cautious to make such large new investments.
Artisans are located in villages that are scattered across the country. They dye locally, to obtain shades that maintain their product identity, hence shifting them to parks or getting them to use mill dyed yarn would make them loose their identity and succumb to competition by the mechanised sector.
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