There are many arms in the fashion industry and with sustainability becoming the mantra of the industry, many brands are going with it. While some designers opt to make day clothes, others opt to go with shoes, bags, jewellery, nightwear, swimwear, and even underwear.
The PICO fashion brand, founded by friends Phoebe Hunter-McIlveen and Isobel Williams-Ellis, is an underwear brand with sustainability at its heart. The company which derives its name from its founder’s names, PICO = Phoebe and Isobel’s Company, creates ethical, organic, and fairtrade underwear that are fully traceable from crop to shop.
The idea of PICO was born after the friends started discussing the importance of working with natural dyes and sustainable fibres. They realised that it was hard to trace the source of many everyday clothing items and they wanted to change this narrative.
The pair settled on making underwear after they spotted a gap in the underwear industry – many companies sustainably create denim or knitwear, but very few dealt with underwear. The fashion brand also produces towels.
The Making of PICO’s Underwear
The process for the manufacture of PICO’s underwear is pretty transparent;
- The organic cotton seeds are sown by farmers who manage the soil, water, pests, and weeds without pesticides,
- The cotton is harvested by hand, 5 to 6 months after being sown,
- A machine then removes the seeds from the cotton fibre,
- The cotton fibre is drawn out and spun to make yarn,
- The organic cotton yarn is knitted on a machine with elastane to make jersey fabric,
- The fabric is dyed using Oeko-Tex & GOTS certified dyes within a zero waste unit, and finally,
- The organic cotton jersey is cut, stitched, printed & pressed by the team at a small Fairtrade factory in the south of India.
After production, the underwear is flown from India to the UK. All the underwear was designed and sampled by Phoebe and Isabel.
PICO worked with a dyed specialist to dye a range of their underwear into three colours: Dusty Terracotta, Wild Heather, and Pink Clay. The dyeing process was done by hand, using only natural substances derived from the extracts of the heartwood of the Acacia Catechu Tree.
The dyeing process involves;
- Washing and scouring the items to remove any residual oils in the cotton fibres which might affect the way the dye is taken. The items are then soaked in a bath.
- Creating a dye bath with the dye recipes and heating it at exactly the right temperature. All the items are submerged and soaked carefully multiple times to ensure even coverage and the required shade of colour.
- The items are then hung to dry.
Natural Dyeing in Nigeria
In Nigeria, natural dyeing techniques have been in place for decades through a process called tie-dyeing. Tie-dyed clothes are called Adire in some parts of the country and are common among the Yoruba people in the southwestern region of Nigeria.
Like the natural dyeing process PICO uses, the dyeing process of clothes in Nigeria is a lengthy and complex one. The process involves;
- Preparing a dye bath using either locally grown indigo leaves or imported grains.
- The fabric is dip-dyed multiple times to get the desired shade of blue.
- The fabric is hung to dry.
In Nigeria, many fashion brands have embraced the concept of using tie-dyed fabrics for their outfits. Some of such Nigerian brands include Asologe, Melia by Jade, and Adire Lounge Textile Company.
Pros of Using Natural Dyes for Clothes
1. Minimal Environmental Impact
Since natural dyes come from natural sources, they are not harmful to the environment. They are also biodegradable so disposing of them does not harm the environment in any way and sourcing them has less carbon footprint.
Since natural dyes are obtained from renewable sources, they can be harnessed without harming the environment.
Natural dyes work in the favour of brands that desire to use colours with soft hues for their designs.
4. Fewer Chemicals
The ingredients used in natural dyes are considered to be less harsh than with synthetic or man-made dyes.
Cons of Using Natural Dyes for Clothes
Natural dyes cannot dye as much fabric as synthetic dyes can. This means that a larger amount of natural dye will be needed to cover the same amount of fabric as a synthetic dye. This results in higher prices.
Natural dyes are made from nature and nature is seasonal. This means that the availability of raw materials varies from season to season, place to place, and specie to specie. On the other hand, synthetic dyes are more readily available since they are created in labs all year round.
Even though natural dyes are renewable, they have a slight sustainability issue. This means that natural dyes require vast areas of land and other natural resources.
Challenges Facing the Tie-Dye Industry In Nigeria
Many people assume that because tie-dyed materials are local they should be cheap. This is not how it goes as fashion brands that produce outfits using natural tie-dyed process have to use quality fabric.
The cost of the quality fabric in addition to the hand-dyed process causes the prices of naturally dyed clothing items to rise. When this happens, many customers do not want to patronise such fashion brands and it affects the industry.
2. Prolonged Delivery
Since the process of tie-dyeing fabric is all done by hand, the process of making outfits take a much longer time than when done with synthetic dyes. This, in turn, turns people off and they begin to opt for synthetic dyed products instead.
3. Cheaper Fabrics
The availability of synthetic dyes and the influx of cheaper alternatives from other countries proves to be a challenge to the local tie-dye textile industry. This is because fabrics that are dyed with synthetic dyes tend to be cheaper than hand dyed fabrics and many people go for it.