Are Natural Dyes in Fashion Sustainable? (+ Best Brands)

Giada Nizzoli

Are Natural Dyes in Fashion Sustainable? (+ Best Brands)

You probably noticed some brands are now using natural dyes in fashion. 

Why exactly is that good news for your health? And are natural clothing dyes as sustainable and effective as they sound?

Let’s find out!

We’ll also show you some of the best ethical brands using natural dyes for their clothing.

First things first: why are traditional dyes an itchy subject?

Red river due to toxic fashion dyes

Photo credit: I Am Renew

90% of our clothes are dyed synthetically (so, using dyes that were created through chemical processes).

This isn’t a negative thing per se. But depending on how they’re made? Traditional clothing dyes can be both toxic and problematic

Like Alden Wicker (author of the book To Dye For) said: “We are all swimming – and drowning – in fashion’s chemical culture.”

  • Toxic dyes and chemicals – Many fashion brands rely on azo dyes because they’re extremely cheap. Unfortunately, they’re also dangerous, for both garment workers and you as a consumer! And overall, most mordants (= the chemicals used to bond the dye and fabric together) used for synthetic clothes like polyester tend to be hazardous, too
  • Health risks – Toxic dyes can cause allergic reactions, endocrine disruptions, and in some cases, even tumour formation as well as respiratory problems like asthma 
  • Pollution – Traditional clothing dyes tend to have a HIGH environmental footprint. They often involve fossil fuels, a high energy and water usage (we’re talking about 200 tonnes of water for each tonne of textiles!), and don’t biodegrade easily. On top of that, many brands release their wastewater—full of toxic chemicals—into rivers. Ugh!
  • Tricky regulations – Technically, azo dyes are banned in many countries. Still, fashion brands get away with it through dodgy supply chains. They outsource their clothing production and textile dyeing to developing countries with fewer regulations or where garment factories aren’t checked properly

So, that’s why some ethical fashion brands are now using natural clothing dyes: as an alternative to traditional and toxic ones.

What are natural dyes in fashion?

Natural dyes in fashion are clothing dyes made using natural and renewable resources such as plants, minerals, or animals like crushed insects.

Natural dyes in fashion from an ethical and sustainable point of view

Hands squeezing wet clothes made with natural dyes in fashion

Ironically, when it comes to colourful dyes and sustainability, things aren’t exactly black and white. 

Pros of natural dyes for fabric

  • Better for the environment – Natural dyes are undeniably more sustainable than most synthetic options. They come from renewable and biodegradable sources, involve a lower water usage, and require fewer chemicals
  • Safe – Most natural dyes don’t contain harmful chemicals or heavy metals either, and they don’t require the same mordants as synthetic options. So, unlike azo dyes, they’re not toxic or dangerous for you and the garment workers who make your clothes (pheeew)
  • Better sourcing opportunities – Natural dyes can often be sourced locally (= shorter supply chain). This means they have an even lower footprint and allow brands to support local artisans and economies

Cons of natural dyes for fabric

  • Limitations – Unfortunately, natural dyes are only really a solution for natural fabrics. They also offer a more limited range of colours than synthetic options, and they can be less intense and not as durable
  • Potential for greenwashing – Some brands still choose to use toxic chemicals to bind natural dyes to their fabric (which defeats the purpose of using them as more sustainable alternatives)

So, are natural dyes for fabric sustainable?

Overall, we’d say that natural dyes are pretty sustainable, and certainly safer and more eco-friendly than traditional synthetic options.

However, it’s important that brands use them as ethically as possible (for example, by avoiding toxic chemicals).

So, for additional peace of mind, you can consider looking for brands with third-party certifications proving they're free from hazardous substances, like the OEKO-TEX Standard 100.

Are you vegan or wish to avoid natural dyes derived from insects? Focus on the PETA certificate.

On Project Cece, you can always use our filters to find fair trade clothes that match both your style and ethos, and that includes Certificates.

Best fashion brands using natural dyes for their clothes


You probably guessed it by the name: this brand prioritises bamboo fabric. They also use natural dyes, including some derived from mango leaves.

Of the Oceans

This menswear brand dyes their clothes in a zero-discharge dyehouse, recycling all their water through a closed loop.


This is a proper slow fashion brand: timelessless over trends and seasonal collections!

As well as natural dyes, they use the most ethical fabrics, like organic cotton and mulesing-free merino wool.

Lavender Hill Clothing 

This brand offers a wide, mostly vegan range of versatile pieces and accessories.

They also choose non-toxic and plant-based dyes, and they even offset their carbon emissions.

Leticia Credidio

The sustainable clothes of this made-in-Italy brand are “comfortable enough to sleep in, elegant enough to be awake in.” How cool is that?

They’re also made with ethical dyes and materials.

JulieMay Lingerie

Avoiding toxic dyes and chemicals is even more important when it comes to underwear!

Luckily, this brand chooses natural dyes, and they use a small-batch dyeing system to reduce water waste.

The Cashmere Clothing

This all-natural Indian brand specialises in timeless accessories, mostly made of silk or modal. They use safe dyes and offset their carbon emissions!

You can find more ethical brands right here on Project Cece, and use our Certificate filter to avoid toxic substances altogether, too.

Some resourceful brands and designers are also coming up with new and innovative solutions, like using CO2 instead of water during the dyeing process.

In the meantime, we definitely think natural dyes in fashion are a safer and more sustainable choice than most traditional ones!

Found this helpful? Start receiving our tips and inspiration to make even more ethical fashion choices.

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