Natural Dyes: Slow Fashion and Environmental Restoration Grandma-Style
In Na Nong Bong, the grandmas do everything they can to protect the environment and their community. They know first hand how chemical contamination can harm people and the earth so minimizing the environmental impact of weaving is crucial. This winter, RadGram is releasing a new line of 100% natural scarves in stunning colors that support our mission of environmental restoration.
Mae Sri is the village expert on natural dyes. Her curiosity and skill for learning about local plants led her to experiment with creating her own colorful dyes. Mae Sri started weaving with her mother when she was 17-years old and cheerfully admits that impressing local boys was part of her motivation for mastering the craft. However, today, over ten years after a gold mine contaminated her farm land and made her temporarily paralyzed, her motivations are slightly different. Now that she is healthy again, Mae Sri is passionate about reducing the use of chemicals in the weaving process. Textile mills contribute 20% of the world’s water pollution so although RadGram’s production is small scale, the grandmas are actively working towards a safer and more sustainable model for textile production.
Creating a line of natural dyes and organic cotton takes an enormous amount of time and work but Mae Sri can do it all. She plants her own cotton and then waits three months before she can harvest it to spin into thread. She then soaks the thread in rice water for three nights, which is her secret to making the thread strong and able to absorb the dye. It takes her a full day to dye the thread, amounting to over a week of prep before she can even begin weaving!
While Mae Sri’s mother taught her how to weave, most of her knowledge about natural dyes has come from her own experiments. Mae Sri regularly observes the nature in her community and when she sees a beautiful color, she will pick the plant and test it as a dye. She boils plant’s leaves, fruit, or roots in water and can then test the pigment on cloth. Through testing many plants and spending tons of time experimenting, she has created dyes in multiple shades of green, orange, yellow, grey, and black.
When asked about what is challenging about working with natural dyes, Mae Sri laughed and replied, “Everything. The entire process is hard and challenging and takes a long time.” While creating sustainable fashion is truly not for faint of heart, Mae Sri believes that it is worth the effort. “It’s fun taking the time for myself,” she continues, “I enjoy seeing the entire creative process.”
One of our greatest joys of working with the grandmas is that we never know what they will come up with but we are almost always amazed by their creativity. We had no idea that Mae Sri knew how to make such vivid colors from local plants but on our last trip to village, we were blown away by her creations. As part of our commitment to environmental restoration, increasing our use of natural dyes and locally grown cotton has been a long-term goal that we are ecstatic to realize.