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In L’Obrador Tint Natural we like to imagine how a world would be without chemical colors. Organic clothes, dyed with natural and environmentally respectful dyes with intense and beautiful colors, at a reasonable price, made in close proximity and in an environment of real and sustainable economy.
Who is L’Obrador Tint Natural?
L'Obrador is a project born because of a collective need, led by Mae Subirats, writer and professor of Spiritual Values of Nature at the Universidad de Girona, author of many books about Buddhism, he is also international cooperator, volunteer in different proposals and a nature lover.
You talk about Slow Textiles, what’s that?
Human relationships have always been the motor of economies; have generated culture, values, tradition and knowledge… Collaborating with similar projects is part of way of conceiving crafts inside the local economy paradigm. But human relationships are difficult to maintain inside the big industry where the economic criteria predominates over the ethics: short timings, costs below reasonable, inhuman schedules, child labor, gender inequality...
When people and their professions are part of one unity, a good work environment is naturally generated, as well as a great confidence in the process and the final product. This is far more important than the market’s needs. This is the Slow culture, where the values of the market do not govern.
How did you come with such an idea?
It’s has been a while since the embryo of L’Obrador was in the oven. We wanted to do a natural dye, that’s why we enrolled into some courses. But it didn’t turned out for us: the ancestral techniques can’t work in the industry, not even the craft production. Let’s make an example: if we want to dye 100 t-shirts we need 200 kg of calendula flowers, or 500 kg of cypress leaves, or 100 kg of birch bark… How can we value the environmental cost involved? What impact is going to have our activity? Long ago, when our great parents dyed their clothes with plants they found next to their home, the impact was much lower: they only had 3 shirts, 2 trousers and 2 jackets. We consume with excess, we are used to have everything we want. So part of the fault is ours: if we can’t attend the demands of the market by dying the clothes with natural resources is because we want it all.
Since many years ago we have been investigating how to enhance the dying traditional methods so the impact could be as small as possible. We have desisted many times, and try again and again. Finally we have found the way to do it.
The dying process is one of the most contaminating stages of the fabric production. You propose a sustainable solution for the environment and the people. How do you achieve that?
The main discovery—as it is usually said—was accidental. By that time I was in Guatemala as a cooperator, that happened 12 months ago, and I was experimenting with classical natural dying techniques with local plants. Accidentally one day the fabrics were dying with a process I would have never imagined. Since then I investigate with cotton thread, trying to repeat that extraordinary process. The first tests resulted in unstable colors, that disappeared with the sun or when washed. Sometimes the cotton was dyed and sometimes it didn’t, with any appeared reason. I didn’t know how to apply the vegetal and mineral pigments this new process was giving me, not even how to produce the fixation, or how to make more stable colors… I tried with wool and silk, with multiple results. Until one day, studying a US patent for biochemistry, dedicated to the isolation of a virus of application in nanotechnology I came up with the idea! I made a couple of simple modifications to the process, and everything started to work!
Suddenly I came up with a natural dying process that doesn’t wastes water (because it is recycled), that can be done in cold with the corresponding saving of energy (the classic dying techniques take place at 60-70ºC), that can be applied in any fabric: cotton, wool, silk, bamboo, hemp… And with not only a simple process but very easy also: to dye fabrics with chemical you need around 6 hours. With this process you only need 5-10 minutes, depending on the color. Furthermore, the process of absorption of the color is so powerful, that as soon as you remove the fabric from the dye, the water is completely transparent! All the pigments are stuck to the fabric! It can be done by hand, with no machinery, in small fabrics and it is so cheap that even at small scale it can compete with the traditional chemical dye.
Such an idea requires lots of efforts and the help of many. What do you need for this project to go ahead?
We have been working on it during some months. But we have found some trouble with the great local fabric industry and it hasn’t been a comforting experience. We are small, we are unknown and we probably give the appearance that is easy to get advantage of us.
On the other hand, we have received the support of many small designers that desire us to start with L’Obrador so they can produce with us. There is a lot of good people out there, with good criteria and an open heart, but the fabric market is complex.
To this fact we should also add the difficulties that every small producer of goods has in this country: self-employed, income tax, municipal taxes, rental costs, electricity, and so on.
Starting the project is tough, that’s why we created a crowdfunding project to try to raise some funds that enable us to make a good start.
And the last question, how can we dye the world into another color, now that it looks so grey and dark?
Gandhi once said: "Be the change you want to see in the world.” We follow his advice.
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"In L’Obrador Tint Natural we like to imagine how a world would be without chemical colors"