Clothing To Dye Or Die For?

The dying process is crucial for any fashion textile because the correct color is ultimately the difference between sell through or not. Despite the importance of dying textiles, the regulations and effort to develop clean dyeing techniques are inadequate. Dye houses are infamous for dumping untreated water into nearby streams. 

Although there has been genuine effort to stop the release of untreated wastewater into water systems, there are still dangerous amounts released (Slater, 2003). Making the phrase well known through out industry trend setters, ‘you can tell the color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers’ still relevant today. 

More controversially, dyestuffs are also developed to be highly toxic and carcinogenic (Slater, 2003). This is because many chemicals used in dyeing are developed to be durable which allows color to last longer. This makes them difficult to remove from water.  

The World Bank has documented there are now more than 3,600 different types of textile dyes each consisting of chemical compounds causing various human and environmental effects. Some major environmental concerns of dyestuffs come from the use of formaldehyde, heavy metals, salt, and the chemical oxygen demand that leaves aquatic environments hostile for living organisms (Gullingsrud, 2017). 

The release of toxins is poisoning rivers and water sources for communities that rely on them for consumption and agriculture. Many of the rivers near dye houses cannot even be used on livestock or irrigation due to dyestuffs pollution leaking residual colors into rivers (Chhabra,2016). 

Water is a basic human need but the unplanned industrialization of the fashion industry has negatively affected the aquatic environments (Chaudhary et al, 2002). As of July 2010, the United Nations (UN) recognized water and sanitation are both basic human rights. Water must be considered a basic human right for all and be protected to ensure citizens have proper quantity to safe and equitable water sources. 

Current processes tolerate for dyestuffs pollution to leaks residual colors into wastewaters. But, it is up to the designers and fashion brands to take a stand and require higher standards for dyes and disposal.

Looking for solutions for your brand? Check out: Bluesign, Oeko-tex standard 100, Detox to Zero, NRDC Clean by Design


Chaudhary V., Jacks G., Gustafsson JE., (2002) "An analysis of groundwater vulnerability and water policy reform in India", Environmental Management and Health, Vol. 13 Issue: 2, pp.175-193,

Chhabra, E. (2016, December 30). The dirty secret about your clothes. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Gullingsrud, A. (2017). Fashion fibers: Designing for sustainability. New York, NY: Fairchild Books.

Slater, K. (2003). Environmental impact of textiles: Production, processes and protection. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing.

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