Natural Dye Use in the United States by Individuals, Communities, and Industries

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The purpose of this dissertation was to better understand how and why individuals, communities, and industries use natural dyes in the United States. My overarching questions were: 1. Who currently uses natural dyes and why? 2. How are natural dyes currently used? 3. What are the challenges and possibilities of production? To examine these questions I incorporated interviews, participant observation fieldwork, and film production into my data collection methods. Over the course of three years, I gathered 40 interviews with 33 different individuals involved in the use of natural dyes. My research first looked at the challenges and innovations that surround the use of natural dyes in the U.S. fashion supply chain. I found that fashion labels must deal with color inconsistencies from natural dyes due to variable growing conditions for plants, water quality, and manufacturing setups. This has led to scientific and agricultural innovations by companies to mitigate variabilities in processed natural dye stuff. Furthermore, fashion labels find it a challenge to communicate and market information about natural dyes. Production dyers would find ways to educate their clients about the realities of using natural colorants. Next, I explored how and why people use natural dyes. I found that individuals use natural dyes because of their own perceived environmental and health concerns, to create a sense of personal fulfillment, and to have autonomy over the production process. I then argued that my participants tied personal identity and meaning to natural dyes. Finally, I used my work in the natural dye community and the internet as sources of information to explore textile-centric epistemologies that fuel dual purposes of commodification and community building. I argue that individuals build a community interested in buying their knowledge. Many times, physical and virtual knowledge sharing is communal. Knowledge can be shared for free at events such as knitting circles, quilt retreats, and weaving guilds. Knowledge can also be sold through in-person and online classes or workshops. However, this connects back to the identities of individuals who can financially afford to take workshops or feel included in physical and virtual spaces. This can lead to underrepresented communities being left out of textile craft communities.

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147 pages


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craft; fashion; natural dyes; social media; supply chain; textiles


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Green, Denise

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Villenas, Sofia
Rogers, Dehanza

Degree Discipline

Fiber Science and Apparel Design

Degree Name

Ph. D., Fiber Science and Apparel Design

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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