There's a lot the fashion industry doesn't want you to know. One of it is how dirty it is – fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. With 20% of the world’s water pollution caused by the dyeing and finishing process, the way your clothes are colored became my main focus (read: obsession, the perks of being a nerd).
SweetIndigo™ took the most of my time. From this 100% traceable & clean blue dye, came many possibilities: Midnight, Forest, even Blanc! But I was restless. Could we push the boundaries of natural dyes beyond blues? I quickly set my eyes to red – and had to realize that noo ne knows how to make naturally dyed red fabrics anymore.
Red: A lost natural color
Red is a tricky one. It’s basically created through tannin, a chemical component that creates red-ish hues in wood. While you often see it in Ikat weaving from Eastern Indonesia, it’s virtually impossible to achieve in Batik.
The reason? Batik requires a boiling process to lose the wax drawn on the fabric to create the motif. Problem is, tannin reacts in water above 100 degrees celcius – basically turning it from red to brick orange.
So, for two years we’ve been experimenting with Sappan wood. In Java, it’s typically used for health drinks (‘Jamu’) as it has strong benefits. When you boil and dye fabrics in Sappan wood, the fabric does become pinkish red. But we just couldn't make it color-fast. Until we found out about the magic of bananas that is...
It all began with a warm plate of banana fritters
During one of the field trips to Medono village, one of our Ibus fried some bananas from her garden for our afternoon snack. It was then that I learnt that banana trees can only grow fruits once. After that, it basically becomes just a stem; a waste in our food system – as it is usually not left to compose but burnt in the fields.
I got intrigued because seeing the sheer amount of banana trees in our villages, I was sure that there was something else we could do with them – turning their fibers into a new kind of fabric perhaps. But then, our research took another random turn: One day, our master dyer found his grandma cutting banana stem and rubbing it on her wound like it's the most normal thing in the world. She later told him that they use that in the olden days because it helps wounds heal.
That was when we started wondering: What about the banana stem was it that allowed wounds to heal faster and could this solve our Sappan dye issue? If it really had antiseptic properties, chemically speaking, it could be what we had been missing all along. My imaginary nerd tail went crazy with excitement – and into a rabbit hole of ratios, recipes, and research we go.
A nerd, unwanted stems, and cherry blossoms
We started experimenting with boiling banana stems that had been tossed aside – and tried using it as a mordant (the stuff that makes a dye stick to the fabric). And after many failed attempts, it finally happened: We had found the right rations so the fabric we were trialing emerged from the boiling water not as orange, but the most beautiful pastel pink.
I held my breath.
I am not a pink person, but my heart stopped when I saw them dancing in the wind.
It turns out that the waste of banana trees, apparently really rich in antiseptic, acts as a coating for the red tannin in the fabric. These unwanted stems protect the red from reacting with the high temperatures – creating these delicate pinks!
So without further ado, meet SappanPink™ !
Inspired by the beauty of spring, this hue represents the coming to life of the earth – from Petal to Blossom. Like a cycle of healing, a reminder of the beauty and fragility of the lives we share – now more than ever. I hope you'll enjoy its bloom. A cherished tradition best enjoyed with a cup of tea and a pause.