Tirupur garment manufacturers are now finding a wider use of natural products like banana fibre, hemp, bamboo, and coconut fibre in the recent months.

With international buyers and brands having brownie points for sustainability in production process and the end product, the hosiery makers in this knitwear town are experimenting with different natural products for fibres, colours, and even printing.

For example, Black Bull Apparel in Tiruppur plans to launch shortly-naturally dyed garments for infants. S. Karthikeyan, Managing Partner at Merwin Garments, says the company has developed in-house two dyes for ivory and off white colours. It has tried these for inner garments and decided to start with children wear and expand to basic wear for men and women in the domestic market under the Black Bull brand. “We do not use turmeric or banana fibre directly on the garments. Instead, these natural products are processed and the byproducts are used for dyeing,” he says. The company also plans to explore natural dyes sourced from suppliers for t-shirts.

According to S. Varun of Blue Earth Clothing, the company has come out with “Zo” branded products that stand for sustainability and minimalism. “We have completed two phases of user trials of comfort wear for men and women. The colours and designs are simple. The dyes are prepared in-house and the company has also developed a printing technology jointly with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University using a natural process,” he says.

The production cost rises up three times when natural dyes, chemicals, and processes are used, the aim is to keep the products at affordable prices, he adds.

Raja M. Shanmugham, president of Tiruppur Exporters’ Association, says there are many other apparel and fashion brands in the international market that are promoting sustainability. Customers of these brands do not mind spending a little more and it is these brands that are looking for suppliers of naturally dyed garments. While this is an emerging trend that is encouraging many manufacturers in Tiruppur to explore different natural sources for dyes, they face challenges while trying to produce such dyes in bulk and in getting more colour shades.

Chief Executive Officer of AIC-NIFT TEA Incubation Centre S. Periasamy says while cotton is a natural fibre used to make apparels, disposal of garments is a problem because of the dyes and chemicals used. “So, there is a big demand for natural dyes, even in domestic garment brands.” The Incubation centre has taken several steps to facilitate availability of resources in bulk to make the natural dyes. The Bureau of Indian Standards has come out with 10 standards for naturally dyed fabrics and the Incubation centre has identified laboratories to test for these standards, he says.