Sustainable textiles, hand dyed in India

Our former intern Srikanth Damarla graduated last year from the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Innovative Textile Development. His master thesis, under the guidance of Textiel Factorij, conducted a comparative analysis of textile printing techniques in a cross-cultural context. Particularly, he compared the Indian handblock printed textiles that utilized natural, environmentally friendly dyes, with rotary screen-printed textiles produced in the Netherlands. His research revealed that the overall environmental impact of Indian handblock printed textiles is considerably lower than the rotary screen-printed textiles done using modern methods. Most remarkably, Indian textiles that use handblock printing and natural dyeing techniques have 70% lower impact on environment and human health. These textiles, therefore are relatively far more sustainable in their production, despite the fact that these fabrics are transported from India to The Netherlands by air.

Hand-dyed textiles in India

The sustainability of most Indian textiles and their contributions towards environmental sustainability can be strongly attributed to the use of naturally occurring, plant-based dyes. As opposed to the chemical dyes used in rotary printing, hand-dyed Indian textiles limit the amount of wastewater generated, leaving water bodies unpolluted at all stages of production. Srikanth also found in his research that the fact that Indian textiles, by virtue of being hand printed and sun dried, hardly contribute to any carbon emissions. Furthermore, employing these localized skills require generational wisdom, and these textiles ensures cultural and social sustainability within textile communities and clusters. These different factors, make the entire production process of Indian textiles environmentally, culturally, and socially sustainable.

Rotary screen-printed textiles in The Netherlands

Being close to the Netherlands and having your textiles produced locally in bulk, would mean proximity to the manufacturer and consequently more control over the design and production process, which can be favorable to businesses. Needless to say, this scenario might offset the ill-effects of having these textiles flown in by air. In that way, local often becomes relatively more favorable. In the light of working conditions and job security, Srikanth also interviewed the employees at the block printing studio in India and the workers in The Netherlands at the rotary screen printing factory. These comparative insights uncovered the working conditions of these employees based on multiple factors. Briefly, these talks indicated that in The Netherlands, employees benefitted from paid holidays and other fringe benefits, that allowed them to have a greater job security. Whereas in India, the craftspeople or artisans do not enjoy these standardized working conditions due to it being a largely unorganized sector often passed on within families. These insights provide important knowledge on these working conditions and allow us, as consumers to make informed choices and realize the impact our choices have on larger societal issues.

Conclusion

Many factors point to the inherently sustainable nature of Indian handblock printed textiles. Not only is its impact on human health considerably low due to lack of chemicals used in the making process, but it also safeguards the value of unique handmade products, which are increasingly understood to be eco-friendly across the west. Furthermore, each uniquely crafted product bears stories of craftspeople, and the irregularities in pattern also provide a peak into the beauty of imperfections.Furthermore, when compared to the mechanical rotary printing method, the negative impact on our eco-system is also lower as blockprinting consumes less water in its production. However, the use of cow manure in desizing the fabric does tend to have some impact on the environment. Finally, due to the little usage of resources (such as energy, gas and oil) in the production process of printed fabric, makes them a sustainable choice when compared to rotary screen-printed fabric.

Overall one can conclude that Indian handmade plant-dyed block printed textiles from India are more sustainable than rotary screen printed textiles produced in The Netherlands, due to use of machines and chemicals, even though Indian textiles need to be imported by airways.