The Shy Activist- Dyeing for Water

Well actually water for dyeing. A trillion gallons of water is used for dyeing to be exact.

Today’s post explores toxic dyes in the textile industry.

Before the synthetic dyeing industry, dyes were made from exotic plants, insects or sea life. The dyeing industry was born accidentally when an English chemist was searching for the cure for malaria. Unfortunately the new discovery had a devastating impact on the environment.

Now dye formulations, colorants and finishing chemicals make up the 20,000 chemical substances used in the textile industry. These chemicals create the beautiful colours we love to wear.


Affect of dyes on workers

Chemical dyes can cause health problems for garment workers. They can get diseases which cause their skin to peel off and become discoloured. “In the nineteenth century, little regard was paid to the safety and of dye worker labor conditions. However, it soon became apparent that there were deadly risks to workers who manufactured chemical dyes and who dyed garments.Even today, Japanese dye workers are at higher risk of tumors. And in the United States, deaths amongst factory workers exposed to dyes in their work suffer from several diseases, including cancers, cerebrovascular disease and lung disease at significantly levels than the general population – up to 40 times higher incidence, for some afflictions.”

Affect of dyes on the environment

Indonesia’s Ciratum river is one of the biggest rivers in the world…and one of the most polluted. 

Before the 80′s people had fond memories of the river. It was clean and full of fish. Similarly there are for memories of the Nayyal river in India where a factory owner remembers playing on the banks as a child.

Now the river’s are full of rubbish and chemicals that are deadly to humans and aquatic life. 

Greenpeace described the discharge from one of factories on the banks of Ciratum river as “highly caustic, will burn human skin coming into direct contact with the stream and will have a severe impact (most likely fatal) on aquatic life in the immediate vicinity of the discharge area.”

The chemically saturated water is carried onto fields and affects the soil. The crops are then affected and this “can be observed through symptoms like plaque in teeth, joint pain and grey hair of villagers.”

Does the damage end there?

The chemical nonylphenol stays on clothes and only comes out after two washes. Clothes with this chemical are banned in EU member states but not in the US.

Now what?

Factory Owners

Factory owners like Eswaran, who reminisces of the days when the banks of the Citarum river were safe for children, are “investing in organic farming, natural dyes and a transparent supply chain”.

“Though doubtful at first about the change, Eswaran says he has found that the smaller quantities with higher profit margins characteristic of the organic industry can be profitable. “Before it was about large quantities, and small margins. Now it’s the opposite,” he says.”

Natural dyes have minimal environmental impact, they are renewable and safe. Unfortunately they are more costly and aren’t always as vibrant as synthetic colours. The industry is also affected by seasonal changes and availability of raw materials.


What can we do? We can demand that the fashion industry take this issue seriously.

Manikam, CEO of a company that sells 500 tons of indigo, says he could produce more natural indigo if enough textile and clothing manufacturers sought it out.


“Since 2011 the Detox campaign has challenged some of the world’s most popular clothing brands to eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals.

Thanks to the action of over half a million designers, bloggers, fashion fans and activists twenty global fashion leaders, from adidas to Zara, have made a commitment to Detox their clothes. Many of these brands are now taking action – taking steps to create toxic-free fashion on behalf of their customers, the local communities and future generations.”


“Waterless dye technologies have been developed, but have not yet been deployed at most manufacturing sites. The textile industry, which has been using copious amounts of water to dye garments for hundreds of years, may be reluctant to embrace this change. After all, this new technology is expensive to install and only works on certain fabrics.”

Phil Patterson, a consultant to textile companies globally and director of UK-based Colour Connections believes “Ultimately, the problem hinges on a larger issue. “The world has gone consumption-mad…As a result there are enormous amounts of textiles produced.” He argues that consuming less is the only way to make an impact in the long run.”



Everlanes values are- Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.

Their website is transparent about the factories that they use. Read more here

The Cotton Long-Sleeve Crew


The Wide Leg Crop Pant


The Japanese GoWeave Sleeveless V-Neck Dress


The Ribbed Wool-Cashmere Crew



The Shy Activist- 900 Days of Water or a Shirt?

Before you buy your next new outfit maybe you can consider how much water was used to make each single part of that outfit. This week we explore water consumption in fast fashion.


How much water is hiding in the behind the pretty clothes we buy?

  • 900 days of water = one t shirt
  • 1000 bathtubs of water = one household’s fashion water consumption per year
  • 7000 litres of water = pair of jeans

How does our fast fashion water consumption affect the environment?


“In the 1950s, two rivers in Central Asia, the Amu Darya and and the Syr Darya, were diverted from the Aral sea to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and nearby Turkmenistan. 

Today, water levels in the Aral are less than 10 percent of what they were 50 years ago. As the Aral dried up, fisheries and the communities that relied on them failed. Over time, the sea became over-salinated and laden with fertilizer and pesticides from the nearby fields. Dust from the dry, exposed lakebed, containing these chemicals and salt saturated the air, creating a public health crisis and settling onto farm fields, contaminating the soil. 

The Aral is rapidly becoming a dry sea and the loss of the moderating influence that such a large body of water has on the weather has made the region’s winters much colder and summers hotter and drier.

While Uzbekistan is an extreme example of how cotton farming can wreak havoc on the environment, the impact of cotton agriculture is felt in other regions, including Pakistan’s Indus River, Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin and the Rio Grande in the U.S. and Mexico.”

What can be done?

  • Levi’s have used recycled water successfully to create 100,000 pairs of jeans. That’s pretty impressive. However the likelihood of this happening depends on the region’s policy about clean water. ”It is likely to be adopted far faster in China than in Bangladesh, because cleaner production is part of government policy in China, along with a gradual increase in water recycling in specific sectors.”
  • These five south asian manufacturers are tackling water consumption by installing waterless washing machines, using rain water harvesting technology and purifying waste water.

Cotton is the least sustainable fibre but…

  • The key to economic development to many countries is the fashion industry. So rather than moving the industry to region with more water supply The Better Cotton initiative aims to make global cotton production better for the 250 million people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.
  • Cotton could be replaced by CRAiLAR, a class B fibre which, like linen, comes from the fast-growing flax plant. CRAiLAR is turned into a fibre more like cotton when spun using a particular enzyme process.

What can we (consumers) do?

  • We can extend the life of our garments. If we did this by 9 months we could say 5-10% water consumption. Not much, but gives you something to think about
  • Put pressure on brands to ensure they are taking steps towards sustainable water consumption
  • Recycle and up-cycle clothes (come to a swapshop!)
  • We can buy certified organic cotton garments. Have a look at this comparison taken from Ecooutfitters:


This week’s fair favourites are Yunit. I love their small collection and unisex style. 

“Yunit is produced under fair conditions and all items are made as sustainable as possible.” 

Could you describe Yunit Studio’s social responsibility?
We work with small production houses which we personally selected. These production houses are selected because they highly value the staff and their working environment. We can guarantee they are paid a good wage and their children are in school.

And what about environmental responsibility?
Yunit Studio works as much as possible with organic cotton. We always discuss with our supplier what the best possibilities are to produce and transport in a sustainable way. You can find more information about this subject in our Weekly.


Choose Repack and receive your order in a re-usable package. Once you have received your goods, you can simply return the packaging for free.








Soomaiya Saturday- Every Penny Counts

Note- This is not a money saving guide


We all like to give to charity regularly. We might have a monthly direct debit set up or give to the homeless. In Islam we give 2.5% of our wealth as it is a pillar of our faith. 

We do this because we want to help people who are less fortunate. We want to make a difference to someone’s life. We want to improve someone’s situation. In Islam we believe that you can’t lose anything from giving.

But what if every penny you spent had a positive impact on someone’s life. What if you offered Trade and not Aid. (I’m not suggesting we stop giving to charity).

At Oh So Ethical we believe that one of the biggest powers individuals have is their consumer power. We have to spend to survive- housing, food, clothes, other essentials.

What if every time you needed something you looked into the best option. Not just the best option for you as the customer but the best option for it’s impact on everything behind the item. Think about the environment, the person who made the goods, what the company believes in. Become a conscious shopper and not a zombie-like consumer.

When I started to think about spending ethically I started with the basics that I would always buy. Items such as soap, shower gels, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste (find them in the OSE directory). It feels good to know I am regularly contributing to businesses that are having a good impact on the world.


I always think of it this way- if your friend and your enemy were selling the same thing, who would you buy it from?

In Islam we believe in attaching blessings to everything we do- “And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good.” (2:195) It’s our mission to have a positive impact with every choice we make. Let’s use our choices to make people happy!