Tiruppur garment makers are experimenting with natural colors, fibers

Banana fiber, hemp, bamboo and coconut fiber are among the natural products that are increasingly being used by garment makers in Tiruppur in recent months.

As international buyers and brands push for sustainability in the production process and end product, knitwear manufacturers in the Knit City are experimenting with different natural products for fibers, colors and even printing.

For example, Black Bull Apparel in Tiruppur is planning to launch naturally dyed clothes for infants shortly. S. Karthikeyan, managing partner at Merwin Garments, explains that the company has internally developed two colorants for the colors ivory and off-white. She tried them out for loungewear and decided to start with children’s wear and expand into basic homewear for men and women under the Black Bull brand. “We don’t use turmeric or banana fiber directly on clothes. Instead, these natural products are processed and the by-products are used for dyeing,” he says. The company also plans to explore natural dyes sourced from suppliers for t-shirts.

According to S. Varun of Blue Earth Clothing, the company has released “Zo” branded products that represent sustainability and minimalism. “We have completed two phases of user testing of men’s and women’s comfort wear. The colors and designs are simple. The dyes are prepared in-house and the company has also developed printing technology jointly with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University using a natural process,” he says.

Although the cost of production increases threefold when natural dyes, chemicals and processes are used, the goal is to keep products affordable, he adds.

Raja M. Shanmugham, chairman of the Tiruppur Exporters Association, says there are several small clothing and fashion brands in the international market that promote sustainability. Customers of these brands are not shy about spending a little more and it is these brands that are looking for suppliers of naturally dyed clothing. Although this is an emerging trend that encourages many manufacturers in Tiruppur to explore different natural sources of dyes, they face challenges when trying to produce such dyes in bulk and get more shades of color.

AIC-NIFT TEA Incubation Center Managing Director S. Periasamy says that while cotton is a natural fiber used to make clothes, disposal of clothes is a problem due to the dyes and chemicals used. “So there is a strong demand for natural dyes, even in domestic clothing brands.” The incubation center has taken several steps to facilitate the availability of bulk resources to manufacture the natural dyes. The Bureau of Indian Standards has published 10 standards for naturally dyed fabrics and the incubation center has identified labs to test these standards, he says.

Michael O. Stutler