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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Industry of All Nations’ Undyed Cotton Initiative Shows Proof of Concept for a More Natural End Product

The popularity of the company’s undyed apparel collection proves the business case and consumer demand for more consciously produced, less toxic clothing.

Fabric dyeing continues to be one of the strongest points of toxicity in apparel production. Conventional dyes can be made from a range of chemicals, including sulfur, and have been linked to a host of illnesses and environmental side effects.

While recent medical evidence has led to louder cries for the textile industry to move away from chemical-based dyes, progressive clothing company Industry of All Nations (IOAN) has moved a substantial part of its offering away from dyes entirely to highlight the raw potential of undyed fabrics including cotton.

“(Like our other materials), we realized there was a need and area for them to be shown,” customer experience manager Preston Kelley tells Sustainable Brands®.

IOAN launched in 2010 with a mission to redefine transparency and ethical production for mainstream apparel — bringing production back to the original makers through the implementation of indigenous or new, responsible manufacturing techniques that respect the cultural identities within each sourcing country. Since then, the brand has built collections around Alpaca wool, vegetable-tanned leather, natural rubber, organic cotton and upcycled cotton and denim fibers; its undyed cotton collection was a natural evolution. IOAN’s first shop solely focused on undyed cotton opened in Joshua Tree, Calif., in 2021; earlier this year, the company transitioned its Manhattan, NY location to undyed-only, as well.

Growing in popularity

Image credit: Industry of All Nations

Whether in-store or online, the Undyed collection is impressively diverse — there are t-shirts, outerwear, denim and more; all in more colors than you’d expect for something “undyed.”

New York location manager Conor Naughton McWilliams says he enjoys having the opportunity to educate store visitors about the potential of undyed cotton; and walking them through the impressive spectrum of natural green, brown, white, blue and beige hues.

“What was missing (was the concept) that ‘your clothes are made out of a plant’,” Naughton-McWilliams says.

Undyed products are now among IOAN’s top sellers, accounting for 75-80 percent of the company’s total output. Three of the company’s main sourcing sites — Bolivia (alpaca fiber), Peru (wild [brown] cotton) and Guatemala (recycled fiber) — are all dedicated to the production of Undyed items. The company doesn’t keep metrics around how much water it's saving or how much dye isn’t used; but Kelley noted that if more companies committed to using less or no dye, the result would be “humongous.” The items the company does dye (from a production site in India) use only 100 percent natural dyes that are derived from plants or minerals; Kelley acknowledges that the process is still resource intensive; but highlights the lack of toxic byproducts.

One of the other big issues is that cotton dyeing uses an immense amount of water — Kelley says about 35 gallons of water go into dyeing 2 pounds of fabric — and that chemical-ridden wastewater then typically drains into local waterways, amplifying the toxic effects that the dyes have on those who work with them.

Looking ahead

As a focus that’s gaining traction across the higher-end apparel business, IOAN’s undyed pieces are styles meant to stand the test of time.

“These feel like items that wouldn’t look super out of place 10 years ago or 10 years from now,” Naughton-McWilliams says.

It was savvy for IOAN to keep its undyed collection simple and classic. Not having a wider array of colors available is still a new idea for many; but sticking to tried-and-true styles such as polos and denim ensures the widest possible net for those looking to buy better apparel with less of an impact.

“It’s a lot more than our relatively small company [can do] to change how we think about the impact of our clothes and the people who work with them. It’s also about consumption and our power as consumers. It’s why I’m excited to come into the shop each day,” Naughton-McWilliams says.