Discover the Beauty of Natural Dyes with Kathy Hattori

Kathy Hattori

Kathy Hattori

Your education is in Environmental Studies but that did not immediately lead to working with natural dyes. Tell us about your early career and what prompted you to make a change. Working with colorants did not become my first career, but I had created for many years with textiles and dyes in my own work.  The reason I moved toward natural dyes  was that I felt very strongly that my second career had to make a positive impact on the world and my environmental studies background led me to natural dyes. 

Where did your love of nature come from? Both my grandfathers were expert gardeners and growers and my father taught me a lot about gardening and growing plants. He was also a landscape photographer, so many of our family vacations were traveling to national parks and forests. I am fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest, which has abundant natural beauty as well. 

What is the difference between natural and synthetic dyes? Natural dyes are derived from plants and insects, and were the only dye color source known to mankind prior to the 1800's. Any textile created before the 1850's was dyed with natural dyes and the colors are rich and deep with history and culture.  Depending on the color, the dye may come from the roots, leaves, fruit, peels or husks of the plant.  Many of the dyes are easily grown or cultivated and some come from agricultural or food manufacturing waste.  The natural dye color palette is complex and intriguing.  Synthetic dyes are largely derived from petrochemical sources and have a sophisticated and complex chemistry to create the most efficient color bond with specific fibers.

Why are synthetic dyes problematic? I think it's fair to say that the problem with synthetic dyes are that the manufacture of the dyes uses toxic substances and heavy metals. These ingredients are neutralized in the finished dye but environmental protection can vary depending on where the colorant is made. If there are no safeguards in place, then communities surrounding these manufacturing facilities are exposed to these harmful substances.  The sheer volume of dyestuffs being used in textile manufacturing means that more and more dyestuffs and auxiliary chemicals are made every year.  In 2012, synthetic dye manufacturing was considered one of the top 12 industrial pollutants worldwide.  In a world where environmental degradation is increasing, it is important to figure out how to create with renewable and non-toxic ingredients.

When and why did you start Botanical Colors? Botanical Colors is my expression of doing minimal harm to the planet while tackling critical problems that affect us all. 

What services does Botanical colors offer? We are colorists, dyers, educators and suppliers.  We help artisans and brands scale natural dyes for their designs and clothing lines.  We support those who are confronting environmental issues with alternative textile coloring solutions.

When we spoke you talked about the authenticity of natural dyes. What do you mean by this? These plants are the colors that humans have used for centuries, and in some cases, millenia. I feel a strong connection with every dyer who stands beside me, or is in my future, or whose shoulders I stand on and it brings satisfaction, gratitude and pride to what I do.  

Over the past 10 years have you noticed any changes in the fashion industry? The fashion industry is confronting its own destructive behavior to the environment and it's been a long, painful process but I believe it's for the better.  Every brand who seriously confronts its own impact needs to think about its entire supply chain.

What do you find are the biggest barriers using natural dyes? Lack of awareness, but that is changing rapidly!

Can you share with us who any of your customers have been and describe any projects you have been a part of? TBD - there will be an announcement around Earth Day 2017.