Market for Natural Dyes
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Linda Doucette
Posted on: September 9, 2003

I just discovered your website on recommendation of an herbalist I met at the NY Renaissance Faire. I’ve been unsuccessfully searching high and low for a source of woad seed as I am an avid natural dyer and gardener. It is too late for this year but I am thrilled to know you now. Is it appropriate for me to place an order now, or wait until winter?

You have several options for starting woad from seed. Woad is a winter-hardy biennial that can be planted in the autumn either in coldframes or flats for transplanting out in the garden or field next spring. Or you can sow the seed direct in the ground where the plants are to grow, thinning them out next spring like you would thin out carrots or beets.

Alternatively, you can wait until March to sow indoors in flats or pots for later transplanting to the garden or field in May. Spring sown plants, however, may take an extra season to reach the mature flowering stage when indican (the colouring principle) is at its peak concentration in the foliage.

I perused most of your online information and did not see a particular topic covered. (More than likely it is because there is no demand but I am going to ask anyway.) I know natural dyers in the US purchase the exotic dyes (logwood, brazilwood etc) in enough quantity to make it worthwhile for several companies to sell. Do you think there is any sustainable market for quantities of other (more mundane) natural dye materials...tansy or black-eyed-susans for example? Do you know of any small commercial enterprises that could use some quantity of material? Has anything been written on this subject? Or are we such an obscure group of eccentric consumers that there is no known market?

The production of natural dyestuffs for the commercial market is not common in North America. Most of what is grown is for the grower’s personal use or for use in his or her craft garment or textile business. Although I am sure that there are some farms producing natural dyes for sale, I am not aware of any. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t a business opportunity for growing dyeplants commercially for the production of dyes. Provided the marketing is right and the products are well packaged and presented, I believe that there is a good opportunity. Natural fibres will always be popular, and with that it is only natural to tell consumers about using natural dyes too instead of articial dyes.

A good starting point for this project is Rita Buchanan’s book, "A Dyer’s Garden." She covers how to grow and use herbs for dyeing wool, cotton and silk. The book is available from Richters.

I appreciate your informative website and look forward to becoming a customer. Would love any dialog on the subject of herbs for natural dyeing, and answers to any of the questions I posed above.

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