Navigating Fabric Dyeing, Finishes, and Industry Innovations


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


September 5, 2023


Emily Lane  00:06

When you're talking about colorfastness, especially with denim, it made me think of, you know, that pair of jeans that that leaves a memory on your white sofa that you are sitting there. Yeah, that of course we've we've come to know that as crocking yeah for for the sake of this conversation croaking?


Emily Lane  00:31

Welcome to Clothing Coulture of fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily Lane.


Bret Schnitker  00:40

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward and discuss solutions to real industry challenges.


Emily Lane  00:48

Clothing Coulture is produced by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience.


Emily Lane  00:57

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture, we are once again up at the tabletop, where we are addressing questions that come in from the audience. You'll never guess what today's topic is about. Do you know what it's about Bret?


Bret Schnitker  01:11



Emily Lane  01:12



Bret Schnitker  01:13

That's pretty morbib.


Emily Lane  01:15

Well, I promise it is not nearly as mccobb as you might think. We're talking of course about garments to die for, fabric dyeing.


Bret Schnitker  01:23

Okay, that's a little more related to the industry.


Emily Lane  01:26

That's right, well dye stuffs create the color that artists dream up, and washes impart that unique character, the personality that handfeel that everybody seeks in an elevated garment. When you put those two things together, you can have magic. So we've had so many questions come in about how you make various decisions on the combination of what dyestuffs we're at fabric and what finishes. So we thought, let's go to the table talk to address this very topic. So Bret, let's start at the beginning. How do you make some of those beginning decisions on what dye is going to be best for you? Or how to how to dye?


Bret Schnitker  02:08

And that's a new word for me. Institut, tell me what that is.


Bret Schnitker  02:08

Yeah, how dye well, a lot of those decisions are sort of pre made different different contents of fiber usually dictate what type of dye stuffs that you use. There are three main kind of categories of dyestuffs, water soluble, water insoluble, and insitut.


Bret Schnitker  02:22

It's, it's a little more complicated. It's hard to distill it in a short kind of detail. But it's, it's about polymerization. It's about two different chemical compounds that kind of coalesce together and adhere color to a surface. Okay, I guess that's about as simple as I can get. Yes, yeah, this is most it is all about chemistry, for sure. And close control of all different elements of chemistry, water, temperature, pH level, etc. Depending on what dye stuffs that you use.


Emily Lane  03:07

I imagine that different fabrics have a different need with regards to the type of process that you use for dyeing,


Bret Schnitker  03:14

specifically type of dye stuff. So there are about nine major dye stops, probably a few more nine major, you've got reactive, that's generally for cotton, cellulose and polyimide fabrics, you have pigment. That's an alternative dye process that is really kind of using earthen kind of materials and kind of washes out and use that washed out look that's usually used for cotton or cotton, poly and printing direct dyes. You can use cotton, rayon, silk or wool. Disperse dyes are mainly what's used for polyester fabrics, acid acid dyes for nylon, and there's metal complex dyes. So for dyes azoic dyes, and then there's unique dyes like vat dyes, and vat dyes are used in the mainly in the uniform business because the vat dye is uses adhesive almost that it he's the color to the substrate and you get no color loss after washing, no reduction of color to sunlight. It's a pretty strong dye. However, the library for those colors are very, very limited. You know, you use the vat dye companies black or green or whatever, but they're very, very strong dyestuffs


Emily Lane  04:32

Wow, there. That's a lot to consider when you're trying to make decisions about the end result that you want for your garment. I imagine that there are kind of some core companies out there that this is their specialty. What would some of those key players be


Bret Schnitker  04:47

Well without advertising too much in our industry? There's really good European companies. Huntsman is is one that that we use quite a bit they they have a very good quality dye stuff's especially reactive that we use them for. But there's others Ciba, Clarent, and a number of them that are out there. And then each country has their own kind of dye companies that that manage maybe less expensive dyestuffs and they kind of range the gamut from, you know, pretty good dye stuffs to maybe not so good they might you know, if you've, you might have some issues with some of them. So they're a lot less expensive when


Bret Schnitker  04:55

you're talking pretty good not so good. Are you talking about color saturation? Are you talking all the


Bret Schnitker  05:35

about color saturation? longetivity of color crocking which we'll get into a little bit color fastness, all those things can be good and bad, depending on the dye dye company that you use.


Emily Lane  05:47

Okay, so let's talk about applications. You know, I'm sure that just some dye better than others. Yes. This is going to be one of those episodes where we just have a lot of ongoing fun about this. I've never been talking about dying. Yeah. So let's talk about how hydrophobic hydrophilic how that affects dying and other other considerations.


Bret Schnitker  06:13

Yeah well, you break you know your basic fibers into hydrophilic and hydrophobic fibers so hydrophilic means that the the the general fiber itself and or the fabric that's created from that fiber, absorbs moisture, cotton, great example pour water on cotton T shirts, it sucks it in that water stays till eventually it dries. And then hydrophobic is it resists, it can't take in water polyesters that perfect example of that polyester really being plastic, for all purposes, has no porosity doesn't have any absorbent quality. And so therefore, it's hydrophobic.


Emily Lane  06:51

That's gonna be really complicated when you're looking at a at a fabric blend, that's like a cotton poly blend, you've got that combination of hydrophilic and hydrophobic, how do you how do you proceed with that those challenges


Bret Schnitker  07:04

and those cases in a lot of cases like that, you could go through double dyeing, you could dye the the cotton with reactive dye stuffs, and then you'd then go back and dye the polyester with disperse dye stuffs. Okay, so you can get, you know, depending on how that fiber is constructed, if it's cotton poly, and it's twisted together a cotton yarn and a poly yarn, you twist them, you dye the cotton would say in black, you dye the poly for red, and you have red and black kind of.


Emily Lane  07:32

So that's kind of how you get maybe some of those heathered looks.


Bret Schnitker  07:35

Heathered would be that the fibers themselves before their spawn, are mixed intimately is what they call it. And then those fibers are all spun out. So you get those particles running all the way through. And you can decide in that case, you could die only for cotton reactive, the poly remains white. So there you'd have kind of a, if you did, if you dyed it with dark gray, you'd have dark gray and white kind of Melange looking. Or you could dye the two colors different and get multicolor Meloche


Emily Lane  08:04

There has been a lot of talk around the world about some of the harms that dye stuffs the effect of you know, once those waters leave, those are the water leaves the tanks, the long term impact of that. In a recent trip that we had in India, pretty much everyone was was very proud to talk about water reclamation services, the friendly dyestuffs all of that that are being embraced there. Can you talk a little bit about dying friendly?


Bret Schnitker  08:38

Yeah, sure. And that that's a major challenge within our industry, the dying, the usage of water, the usage of energy, they say that in terms of like basic cotton dying, you can I think you use 200 litres of water to dye just one kg of fabric so and then you've got to keep it hot, you've got to continually kind of allow that that dye stuff to soak into the fiber. So it's it's water intensive, it's energy intensive. And then the effluence can be rather challenging for the environment and certain countries have had less restriction on that and therefore it flows into the rivers and causes all sorts of issues. And then And then most companies are kind of waking up and realizing the first step there is that water reclamation where you know, we saw that the dyestuffs go into a treatment plant. The treatment plant goes through and pulls all of that harmful stuff out at the very end you can just drink the water at


Emily Lane  09:35

So yeah, there was a factory that we were given water to drink came through their systems.


Bret Schnitker  09:41

Yeah. So thankfully that certainly on the rise and then other people are exploring eco friendly dyestuffs and then eco friendly alternatives to applying the color or range of color to the actual substrate. And so some of those things you can use natural dyes natural dyes come in the form of insects, mineral and vegetable material. We kind of took a trip to El Salvador, and they talked about Indigo dyes and, and certain seeds that you could dye and impart this color naturally onto the substance.


Emily Lane  10:15

Return to history really


Bret Schnitker  10:16

It is  one of the biggest challenges with natural dyes today is that they're not very color fast. In most cases,


Emily Lane  10:23

What do you mean by color fast?


Bret Schnitker  10:24

Well, Indigo. So Indigo, for example, is a natural dye stuff. And we know Indigo as it relates to denim and our jeans, we also know that you can get a gene to begin with, it could look very, very dark. And after multiple washes, that jean becomes very, very light. So colorfastness means colorfastness, to laundry, colorfastness delight, in this case, colorfastness to laundering or water, it slowly lightens that dyestuff and doesn't have the ability to hold color over a long period of time. So those are some of the downsides to maybe some of the natural dye stuffs. But there's other things that you can do, where you reduce the overall usage of energy, and water in like digital prints are on the rise, you're actually applying the the print directly to the fiber, and you can do it with pigment pigments. Or you can do it with reactive, and you're actually reducing the amount of additional processing needed. And then there's dry dyeing technologies, all sorts of things on the horizon that that will that will help in the path for eco friendliness.


Emily Lane  11:36

When you're talking about colorfastness Especially with denim, it made me think of, you know, that pair of jeans that that leaves a memory on your white sofa that you were sitting there Yeah, that of course we've we've come to know that as crocking Yeah, for for the sake of this conversation croaking Yeah.


Bret Schnitker  12:00

Yeah, there's two types of cracking, there's wet and dry cracking. So and there are tests for each, when we're doing different tasks. When the test comes out, they braid it on a scale of one to five, five means little or no change. And one means a radical change, and crocking itself. If you have a one or a two, that means in, like, if you put your jeans on, or you putting red pair of pants on that doesn't have very strong properties in terms of resisting that, that's that rubbing that happens where you're sitting on something and you, you know, sit on that white sofa, and it leaves that color. So that would be dry cracking, wet cracking, you take a red garment, you put it in with your white sheets, and all sudden you pull it out and everything pink. So that's what crocking in terms of that color leeching on to other fibers. And those are the two different terms.


Emily Lane  12:55

And so are those things that brands just kind of decide like I'm okay with this tolerance level of, you know, more crocking, or is it kind of an accident that's made? How does that how does that come to be? And how can you prevent it?


Bret Schnitker  13:13

I think, I think most of the industry that's formalized has standards that they set in place, three 3.5 4.0. You know, the higher the scale, the less issues you have with a crocking and and most people have different levels of rigidity. When it comes to that. There is limitations. However, if you're doing pigment, you're doing dark colors and pigment like black pigment or dark gray pigments, you just you just have to accept that pigments themselves much like Indigo, they are going to have higher levels of crocking issues and you can't get for instance and pigment dye or pigment print to achieve a 4.0 or a 5.0 they're usually going to hover somewhere in the two to 3.5. And you know, buyer beware there's tags each one's uniquely done, washed separately. There's all these different, you know, cautionary tags that go on garments. Okay,


Emily Lane  14:08

so I guess it's time to finish this conversation. I'm just really full these days. Yeah. So let's talk about finishes. I would say the next phase of imparting that character to it. What are what are they how are they applied? What What's the range of opportunity within finishes


Bret Schnitker  14:30

wide, really wide you know, certain finishes can be done by machines and you would have calendarsation is one that used to last us a long time ago. So you take a poplin or a Chinse fabric and run it through calendar zation which are two steel kind of barrels and it would polish the fabric so it looks shinier. There's mercerization That kind of cinches off fuzz and leaves both the yarn and the fiber very very shiny and and there's also a in mercerization. There is a chemical process that if you look at a side view of let's say, a cotton fiber, the, you'll have, you know two different ways that these fibers kind of go and when light hits them it kind of refracts light and looks duller. When you go through a mercerization process, those fibers lay flat within the spun fiber itself, and therefore reflects more light and creates more shine. There's there's brushing, sanding, all different types of things. They use little rubber balls that you put in the washing into that fluffs things, there's


Emily Lane  15:43

that makes me think of our rack of tiny tees that we have that has 27 different finishes. So this is how it's gonna feel.


Bret Schnitker  15:53

Yes, they have different feelings, you can also performance finishes. So adding into different fabrics like polyesters, you've got wicking, antimicrobial UPF. There's anti wrinkling, anti static, anti pilling warming. List is less today, really is


Emily Lane  16:11

what do you want this garment to do? How do you want it to feel? And then from there? Yeah, let's make some decisions. For sure. How that sounds great. Well, thank you so much, Bret, for, you know, helping us dye a little better today and sharing your knowledge on this


Bret Schnitker  16:29

In our industry, We dye a little everyday something we dye alot.


Emily Lane  16:34

Well, on that note, I think knowing that our time is limited, it's time to wrap it up. So thank you so much for joining us on this conversation. Clothing Coulture. Do not forget to subscribe and stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture.

Watch the video here:

Click below to watch the entire episode.

Navigating Fabric Dyeing, Finishes, and Industry Innovations