In a radical move away from synthetic dyes, the Clean Color line features soft earth tones made from food waste, silkworm excrement, and dried beetles.
Take a quick glance at Patagonia’s new Clean Color clothing collection, and you’ll notice that there’s not a lot of variation when it comes to color. All the pieces are either green, brown, pink, gray, cream, or a combination. This is because they’ve been dyed with natural ingredients – palmetto and mulberry leaves, pomegranate rinds, citrus peels, cochineal beetles, silkworm excrement, and leftover fruit – which restricts the color palette but produces beautiful soft hues that are cleaner and safer than their synthetic counterparts.
Patagonia has always been one to push the limits of innovative and environmentally responsible manufacturing, and this is just one more example of its forward-thinking approach. In the company's 2016 guide, “The Responsible Company,” founder Yvon Chouinard wrote about some of the problems with the dyeing industry:
“The textile industry is one of the most chemically intensive industries on earth, second only to agriculture, and the world’s largest polluter of increasingly scarce freshwater. The World Bank estimates nearly 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment.
"Wastewater that goes – often illegally – untreated or partially treated returns to a river, where it heats the water, increases its pH, and saturates it with dyes, finishes, and fixatives, which in turn leave a residue of salts and metals that leach into farmland or settle into the viscera of fish.”
Patagonia currently uses a company called Swisstex California to dye its fabrics, with a special process that uses half as much water as an average dyehouse in the United States and treats all wastewater fully before releasing it. But clearly the company wants to take it further with their introduction of these natural dyes. The press kit warns that the natural colors “change and fade over time, but that’s part of what makes these dyes unique.”