Yes, you read that right: At SukkhaCitta, we dye with sugar! It's far from easy and took us years of research. But the result is more than worth it: It empowers 12 farming families, keeps dangerous chemicals away from our villages and is safer for you as well!
What's the problem with dyeing as usual?
Well, I'm glad you asked ;) Dyeing is the fashion industry's dirty secret: Synthetic dyes are responsible for 20% of industrial water pollution globally. In fact, 72 toxic chemicals in our water come solely from textile dyeing - of which 30 can never be removed. These chemicals keep reacting and forever changing in our rivers.
The good news? There is a better way.
Meet Indonesia's first dye that is 100% clean, traceable and empowering!
I'll get a little bit more into the nerdy details of how awesome this new dye really is below. But for now, I'd like to show you how we grow and prepare our very own SweetIndigo™ pieces for your favorite #MadeRight pieces - starting from the farm!
It all starts in a little nursery right next to our Rumah SukkhaCitta in Central Java.
Using the seeds we saved from the previous harvest, we grow little indigo seedlings nursery first. Once they're big enough, we move them to the many fields surrounding the village. It takes 4 months to grow to their full size. The process is laborious and is all done by hand, providing employment to 12 families in the village.
1 #MadeRight Shirt takes 20kgs of leaves to dye!
Before dyeing, indigo typically undergoes a long fermentation process in large concrete vats. They bubble up, appearing to breathe, and this lifelike reaction is also an assuring indication of its quality.
On a molecular level, this fermentation process is crucial. It enables the water insoluble indigo dye molecules to attach and bond to cloth fibers, which makes sure the dye stays on the clothes. The depth and fastness of the colour are determined by the layers of fermented indigo dye molecules built up in the vat.
The process is laborious and is all done by hand, providing employment to 12 families in the village.
While we let the fermentation happen, let me take you to the forests nearby our village. Under a large palm tree, Ibu Dani waits for her husband to climb and collect the sap that built up overnight.
What does sugar farmers have anything to do with your clothes?
The simple answer is that Indigo, like us, loves sugar! You can imagine the blue dye particles are now floating in the water after the fermentation process. But that's just it, it's sleeping. To actually use it to dye, you have to wake it up.
Chemically, it's a process called reduction, where oxygen is temporarily taken from the vat to allow the indicants to enter the fabric. Without this crucial reduction process, the blue dyes remains asleep and unable to stick to the fabric.
Sugar is a natural reductor that makes the blue dye stick to your clothes. Without it, the blue dye remains asleep in the water.
So as you can imagine, this reduction process is k e y with a capital K. It's what determines the skill of a master dyer and this is where the magic happens. It took us years to be able to find the perfect recipe, turning to the best source: our ancestors. We use grandmama's secret recipe to make our Indigo vat (the grandmother from the village, mine wouldn't know what Indigo is ;-) ).
We mix the water we fermented our little Indigo leaves in with just the right amount of sugar and a bunch of other natural ingredients like limestone. It takes a while. And costs a lot more. Most indigo dyers nowadays use chemicals instead of sugar, because it's cheaper and faster. But that's not good enough for me.
Using chemical reduction beats the whole purpose of using natural dyes in the first place, which is to eliminate all forms of toxic components from the dye waste. Using sugar is the only way you can be sure that your clothes are not harming the Planet that's given us so much.
And it is totally worth it! Sugar-reduced Indigo was shown to be more colorfast than its chemically reduced counterpart. That's just a win-win that makes it all worth it. It's safer for our dyers, kinder to the planet, and better for you.
Most indigo dyers use chemicals instead of sugar because it's cheaper and faster. That isn't good enough as it creates toxic waste.
Your #MadeRight piece connects you to the Earth - and all the hands in between.
I hope by now you begin to have a sense of the long journey it took to bring your clothes to live. This is actually the bulk of our work, going directly to the field to make sure every step of our supply chain changes the status quo.
Doing things right come at a cost.
Your purchase enables this circle of change we're starting in our villages - gently shaking the fashion industry to take note and clean its supply chain. Because the last thing the world needs is another fashion brand. Instead of funding marketing campaigns and going with the hype, we make sure your purchase really does change lives.
Now, you know why whenever you feel comfy wearing our clothes, you give a new breath to the Planet too. I hope through this lengthy post, you start seeing that there's a whole story behind simple things like what we wear. And it's up to us what story we choose to build.