Biocultural Dye-versity

Biocultural diversity is the system of indigenous socio-ecological knowledge to increase resilience and support local community. The focus of biocultural diversity is to take a holistic system of culture and nature that is shaped by human management over long periods of time to maintain ecosystem health and mitigate climate change (Maffi L., Woodley E., 2010). 

Within the realm of textiles, cultures around the world have mastered the skills of producing materials and naturally dyeing cloth and leather for the interest of cultural expression. The preparation and use of dyestuffs is one of the oldest human activities, and until two centuries ago the materials and methods had hardly changed (Morris PJ., Travis A, 1992). Natural and non-polluting techniques are well-know but the introduction of mass production has lead the fashion industry down a polluting path.

In the declining use of these techniques, due to the growth of textile industry producers have created cheaper but toxic dyes. According to The World Bank Pollution Prevention Handbook, there are now more than 3,600 different types of textile dyes each consisting of carried chemical compounds and various environmental effects. This diversification in color has led to greater challenge to cleaning water supplies while also increasing the amount of water needed per season due to the growing number of ‘seasonal’ colors. 

If we went back to the production practices of natural materials and natural dyes as produced prior to the industrial revolution. As well as, learned how to incorporate the pigment of indigenous cultures we would contribute to making the planet healthier,. But we would also improve the lives of those who work in the textile finishing industry but improving the air they breath and the water available to nearby communities. It is important that we look to the indigenous cultures around the world and learn from their knowledge of the land. The land and people who dye our clothes should not die because of our clothes. 


Maffi, L., & Woodley, E. (2010). Biocultural diversity conservation: A global sourcebook. London: Earthscan.

Morris, P. J., & Travis, A. (1992). A History of the International Dyestuff Industry. A History of the International Dyestuff Industry, 1-3. Retrieved from

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