Sustainability and Culture: Time for a Manifesto!

True Colors author Keith Recker shares with us his ideas for a “Natural Color Manifesto.”  Won’t you join him? 

It has been said that the fashion industry is the second-most polluting industry in the word today, just behind mining and oil extraction. While that is difficult to prove, other sobering statistics should keep us focused on the need for change. Eighty percent of all clothing purchases find their way to landfills within a year. Just a single fast fashion chain, H&M, is sitting on over $4 trillion in unwanted inventory. Labor conditions in fast fashion factories tend towards the deplorable and the unsafe. Sweatshop wages hardly create well-being or prosperity among the makers of the clothing we consume at rates five times those of the 1980s.

It’s time for a change. It’s up to us to make it happen. As customers, we need to insist that our clothes are made in safe, dignified working conditions by people making decent wages. As consumers, we need to monitor what we buy. Are our purchases necessary? Will they last long enough to justify the resources that have gone into them? Do they represent the values and practices that might help us heal the planet and meet the needs of our fellow humans?

Color Manifesto
Gorgeous green cloth dyed with mint by natural dye artist Sash Duerr. Photo by Joe Coca from the book, True Colors.

Color can play an important role in these decisions. Are the colorants used in our clothing safe for the environment? What is the dyestuff? Is there anything healthful or helpful about it? Is it derived from petrochemicals? What sort of effluent does its use create? How is wastewater handled? Is it colorfast, and ready to stand up to normal wear and tear and laundering? Imagine what would happen if we started to ask these questions of makers and purveyors before buying a garment: We would become fashion advocates rather than fashion victims!

color manifesto
A range of yellows dyed with marigolds recycled from Hindu temple offerings, the master work of Rupa Trivedi of Adiv Pure Nature. Photo by Joe Coca from the book, True Colors.
  • What would happen if we decided that over the next 12 months, 50% of our fashion and home textiles needed to represent our advocacy for people and planet?
  • What would happen if we talked to our family, friends and colleagues about our experiences, and guided them to the best markets, stores and sites we discover?
  • What would happen if we organized Overdye Days for groups of 20 community members to bring their somewhat faded and slightly worn natural fiber garments to a refreshing natural dye session? Indigo, for example, is a great dye for both cellulose and animal fibers. I once watched a French designer unpack some very full suitcases he brought to West Africa – all of them laden with sweat-stained T-shirts, faded dress shirts, washed-out cotton trousers, old boxer shorts, and all manner of spotty household linens. All of these goods went to a team of indigo dyers outside of Cotonou, Benin…and were returned to him in various shades of indigo blue, refreshed and ready to live another full life back in Paris. If your tastes are more inclined to red or yellow, madder and weld are at your service.
Color Manifesto
Uzbek dye artist Fatillo Kendjaev pulls yarn from the madder bath. Photo by ElyorNematov from the book, True Colors

We can do so much more than we are doing! The 26 natural dyers and makers of pigments profiled in True Colors have inspired me with their talents and stories–and have challenged me to take their cause further in my own life, as well as into every chance I get to talk about the value of natural color. Let’s follow their example and go deeper in our pursuit of better ideas, better practices, and more beautiful natural color. Let’s work together to make a natural color manifesto. It’s time we did.

–Keith Recker
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Learn the language of natural dyes, the metaphors of color when Keith Recker talks with Susan Hull Walker of Ibu Movement in this in-depth new video.

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