Bye-bye, dye-lemma!

SAGES produces natural dyes from food waste and demonstrates how to improve the industry | By Vanessa Stagen

Bye-bye, dye-lemma!

Dyes in the textile industry have a substantial negative impact. Synthetic dyeing alone contributes to around 80% of the emissions associated with the fashion industry. The dyeing process is infamous for its excessive use of water and chemicals, which often lead to water pollution and endanger aquatic ecosystems. They are also often sourced from petrochemicals, adding to carbon emissions. Furthermore, the production of dyes generates toxic waste, often disposed of in environmentally harmful ways. The negative impacts even extend to potential health concerns, as synthetic colours have been known to cause skin irritation.

SAGES is a young London-based textile industry company that produces natural dyes from food waste to address this massive environmental problem. “We knew that there needed to be a natural solution developed but that this couldn’t rely on the production of any virgin raw materials”, founders Emily Taylor and Alice Simpson told Footprint.

SAGES' alternative dyes are designed to prevent the release of harmful dye effluents. By using food waste, their sustainable dyes have an even smaller environmental footprint than other natural dyes. The idea originated during their master's program at the London College of Fashion. 

SAGES obtain the food from both farms and food companies like food processors, industrial kitchens or packers. To produce a small batch of dye, the company uses a specific technology that splits the colour from the raw materials and processes it into a powder. After fixing the powder pigments with a colour, the dye is ready for use. The whole process of colour extraction takes between 6 and 12 hours. The company has developed twelve colours, six of which will be suitable for brand collaborations in 2024, with 43 more in development.

The move towards natural dyes is not only environmentally sensible but also enhances health and safety. By avoiding the use of harmful chemicals and heavy metals found in synthetic dyes, SAGES’ products create a safer working environment for industry professionals.

A better process isn't always sufficient, however. “Awareness amongst consumers is important but the industry itself is lagging behind on its understanding of these issues," the founders told Footprint.

Both members of SAGES participate in panel discussions, interviews, and presentations to increase awareness of the negative effects of synthetic dyes and potential alternatives. They won a £500,000 grant from Innovate UK. This has given SAGES an opportunity to make a breakthrough and focus on fulfilling their mission of helping colour a greener planet.

“We want to see natural dyes become the obvious choice for the fashion industry. We envision that communities can no longer tell the fashionable colour for the season by looking at the colour of their lakes and rivers”, said Alice Simpson and Emily Taylor.

Words by Vanessa Stagen

Images courtesy of Alice Simpson & Emily Taylor