Naturally enough, natural dyes are a green and sustainable alternative to synthetic colours. Their presence, however, has largely been confined behind the walls of small-scale workshops not least because of their relatively muted colour payoff and painstaking work process. It seems a lot of product research and development efforts would be needed before natural dyes come of age. Thankfully, enthusiasts around the world are keen on sharing their passion with a wider audience; a growing universe of naturally dyed products are now starting to carve out a comfortable niche in the lifestyle market.
Arguably one of the most sophisticated value chains in the natural dye industry, Zhuo Ye Cottage (卓也小屋) in Miaoli, Taiwan is a secluded hideaway set in verdant surroundings with an idyllic vibe that echoes the rustic artisanship of natural dyeing. It is the place where Zhuo Ye re-cultivated bluegrass with a view to reviving the Hakka tradition of indigo dyeing (Miaoli is the Hakka cultural hub in Taiwan). The site has since developed into an indigo farm resort where city dwellers unwind and soak up the indigenous practice of indigo dyeing from planting to dye extraction, and from preparing the indigo bath to processing the dyed products.
Combining artisanship, ecology and lifestyle into a farm stay, Zhuo Ye Cottage is an eco-wonderland with natural beauty, accommodation, gourmet experience, indigo workshop, and shopping spree all rolled into one. Inside the cottages dotting the woods, guests enjoy a cosy stay in a snug decorated with indigo homeware, which offers a lived-in experience of the indigo culture. Both guests and visitors are welcome in the restaurant and café. Modern vegetarian dishes prepared with locally sourced ingredients are served in a setting clad in indigo decors. What better way to while away the hours in this picture-perfect showcase of seasonal landscape than with an ice-cream scoop naturally coloured with indigo, turmeric, or beetroot?
You can take home with you a piece of blue-clad lifestyle – most commonly in the form of fabrics. If you feel particularly adventurous, go on a scavenger hunt in the souvenir shop or check out their online treasure trove abounding in indigo garments and soft accessories, alongside the more unusual choices of wicker-woven hats, indigo shoes, and even naturally coloured pickle buns!
Japan is an epitome of artisanship. Born from a seemingly impossible dream of creating indigo leather, enku tells the story of a Japanese photographer whose unyielding passion finally paid off. Kenichi Harada was fascinated by the world of leather when he was halfway into a quest for the ultimate craftsmanship. Initially, his unprecedented pursuit of indigo leather was met with overwhelming technical challenges: leather does not take dye easily but prolonged soaking will make it perishable. Despite – or perhaps because of – these unique properties of leather, Harada search high and low for a solution. He visited master dyers across Japan, and the journey came to fruition, finally.
The nuanced colours, coupled with Mr Harada’s exquisite craftsmanship, make each indigo leather goods a unique work of art. The product will age over time, giving it a beautiful patina that is rich in character.
Despite the unparalleled success of indigo leather, Mr Harada does not sit on his laurels. He goes on to explore the possibilities of traditional dyeing techniques. One of these experiments that bear fruit is the application of Katazome dyeing to leather, giving Edo motifs and designs a new lease of life. Mr Harada also incorporates new bio-ingredients into his palette for leather, including the kariyasu yellow extracted from Japanese silvergrass and the red madder root dye – both of them have to go through painstaking preparation before they are applied to the pelts, which makes them even rarer than indigo leather.
Another brand from Taiwan, IAN Design, prides itself on the vision of making a difference with a simple and sustainable lifestyle. The clothing brand uses organic cotton and natural, toxin-free dyes to create a meticulously designed yet decidedly clean wardrobe for an environmentally friendly and stylish statement look.
Blessed with rich natural resources, Taiwan offers an ideal terrain for the development of natural dyeing. The favourable geographical location has given IAN Design a head start in its endeavour. The readily broad spectrum of stable and intensely pigmented dyes, derived from purple gromwell, madder root, gardenia, bluegrass, tea leaf and other botanical sources, are used not just on fabrics but also on the least expected material – concrete. The industrial concrete is given a warm spin with natural colours, encapsulating the cosy sensation of the homeware line of vases, candleholders, and coasters. Each product is exquisitely worked with layers of colour to achieve striking and enduring results that will elevate any home.