Indigo and the Denim Industry
Indigo remains widely used in the denim industry. The signature blue jeans color was created using natural indigo dye, however, the natural indigo industry came to a decline with the introduction of synthetic indigo. Synthetic indigo is cheaper, quicker to use and produces a more vibrant color, which caused many denim and fashion companies to transition to synthetic indigo. While synthetic indigo is more cost and time effective, it also causes serious damage to the environment. Even though it has the same chemical formula as natural indigo, synthetic indigo is petroleum based which makes it insoluble, and is made out of numerous harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde.
Denim is usually dyed using synthetic indigo, the denim industry uses more than 45,000 tons of synthetic indigo a year, which is made up of toxic chemicals and requires about 50 to 100 liters of water to dye a single pair of jeans. Synthetic indigo’s high water usage is due to its insolubility which impedes the ability of the dye to penetrate the fabric. The waste water then pollutes waterways and corrodes sewage pipes, leading to a plethora of environmental catastrophes. With the ever-growing concern for the environment and desire for natural products, researchers and scientists from the University of Georgia have developed a new sustainable process for dyeing blue jeans using natural indigo to the same effect. This new technique requires less water, produces more color, and eliminates toxic chemicals that make the dyeing process environmentally damaging.
This new dyeing process combines natural indigo with nanocellulose fibers, which is a wood pulp mixture. When the denim is added to the mixture, the indigo nanofibers stick to the surface of the fabric and hold in place. The shade of indigo can then be altered depending on the amount of indigo particles that are combined with the nanocellulose fibers. Researchers have found that this method requires only one coat of dye and produces over 90% of the color, significantly reducing the amount of water needed. Furthermore, this dye process does not sacrifice comfort for environmental protection and maintains the same level of thickness, weight, and flexibility in the denim. Additionally, time is saved on dyeing because multiple dips is not necessary, nor is oxidation between each dip. Ultimately, if this new method were to be used by the denim industry it would provide a more effective option, which would also significantly reduce water usage and hazardous materials that are released into the environment.