Cotton Bale USA

Cotton Incorporated, the research and promotion company for U.S. cotton, and Archroma, a business-to-business color and specialty chemicals specialist, have collaborated to present what they believe is the first dye derived from cotton plant residue.

Cotton Inc. approached Archroma and challenged the company to develop a dye option to create and color a fabric using a single plant source.

The patented technology addresses two key concerns of the textile industry — sustainability and traceability. The sulfur-based dyes are designed for use on cellulosic fibers, such as cotton. While most dyes in the textile industry are synthetic, using petrochemicals as a base, EarthColors is a biosynthetic alternative that utilizes natural waste from the agricultural or herbal industry.

EarthColors is Archroma’s innovative method of creating dyes in warm, ternary shades from nature.

“As soon as we heard about the EarthColors technology, we wanted to explore the possibilities of cotton as a natural dye source,” said Mary Ankeny, senior director of textile chemistry research at Cotton Inc., who led the project on the organization’s side. “By-products of cotton harvesting and ginning have been utilized within the food and construction industries for decades, but we were intrigued by the idea of using cotton biomass to dye cotton fiber.”

There is an ample supply of cotton biomass. The global volume of cotton harvesting and ginning byproducts — which includes burs, stems, immature bolls, lint, sticks and leaves — can be as much as three million tons annually. One 480 pound bale of cotton, for example, can produce 150 to 200 pounds of usable by-products. Archroma’s EarthColors application on cotton by-products marks the first time the cotton plant has been used to actually dye cotton fabrics.

Dyeing a natural fiber with dye processed with natural ingredients has appeal for many environmentally conscious brands, a niche Archroma aimed to fill with the launch of the line in 2014.

“Archroma strives to challenge the status quo and our EarthColors technology demonstrates our dedication to support and inspire sustainable fashion with warm colors that can be traced from the field to the shop,” said Nuria Estape, head of textile specialties global marketing and promotion at Archroma.

Each batch of EarthColors dye offers a high level of traceability in the form of a hangtag with a Near Field Communication chip. Data on the chip, which can be accessed by Archroma customers and their consumers through a smartphone, explains the manufacturing process of the dye and where the natural materials were sourced.

Similarly, every bale of cotton grown in the U.S. receives a bale identification tag. The tag allows cotton businesses to trace the journey of the bale as far back as the facility where the cotton was ginned. The tag also includes information on the fiber characteristics for the cotton contained in the bale, which allows for efficient inventory management by merchants and mills.

The knit and woven constructions, produced at Cotton Inc.’s laboratories in Cary, N.C., and at the Cone Denim White Oak facility in Greensboro, N.C., demonstrate the range of brown hues that be achieved using 100 percent cotton biomass as the source.

Archroma is headquartered in Reinach, Switzerland, and operates in about 35 countries.