Patagonia is moving away from traditional dyes to a more natural solution. In order to preserve freshwater, the clothing line is creating natural dyes to put in their “Clean Color” shirts and pants instead of synthetic dyes. While it’s a move that will limit colors, and the product could fade easier, it’s ultimately a better long term solution.
Currently on the “” website, they have a mixture of 13 different T-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops, polos, pants, and shorts. Most products have a selection between two and three colors, although there’s not a big variety. There’s mostly forest greens, pink, a few shades of brown, creams, and gray.
That’s a limitation of natural dyes. There won’t be as many options, and some people may not be interested in the alternative pale look in a lot of the clothing. Patagonia notes that the colors will also fade as time goes on. However, all of that is a trade-off that helps the environment significantly.
“This is because they’ve been dyed with natural ingredients – palmetto and mulberry leaves, pomegranate rinds, citrus peels, cochineal beetles, silkworm excrement, and leftover fruit – which restricts the color palette but produces beautiful soft hues that are cleaner and safer than their synthetic counterparts.”
An interesting note about “cochineal beetles” -- they’re actually bugs. These insects are dried out and put in alcohol to create the cochineal extract. This dye was also commonly used in food, and it wasn’t until 2009 that the Food and Drug Administration ordered that this product be clearly identified since it was an allergen. Prior to that, it was simply called a “natural color.” National chains such as Starbucks back in 2012, but the product can be found everywhere.
The synthetic process is still largely used today by textile industries, and they use up to nine trillion gallons of water per year. Up to 25 percent of this is wasted water, and up to 20 percent of it is discharged back into our rivers. While wastewater treatment does their best in getting rid of the toxic chemicals in the discharge, it can’t clear all of it. Anything that passes will be extremely hard to break down. Water temperature and pH levels will rise, not to mention the harm it will do to the animals and how that affects the seafood industry.
Patagonia, in conjunction with Swisstex California, will do its part to help out with water pollution. Martinko reports that the company will take in “half as much water as an average dyehouse” and “treats all wastewater fully before releasing it.” This effort coincides with the company’s other effort of eliminating synthetic clothing. The microplastics that come out of the clothes when they’re washed can too pollute the water. Patagonia has been phasing out fleece products and synthetic fabric for natural options.