Jill Smith, a community member from Oahu’s North Shore and owner of the clothing line “Ali Dakota,” described the beginning of her process of creating her eco-printed clothing pieces saying, “It all began with a walk in the forest.” She explained her clothing line represents the art of experimentation with nature’s finest products.
Eco-printing, according to the Lost in Colours website, is “a natural dyeing technique that uses leaves, flowers and other plant based materials to create patterns and colors on fabric.”
Smith said her journey with eco-printing began out of concern for her wellbeing. She said, “I had been doing a lot of dying with toxic color dyes and the chemicals started to affect my health.” Smith said this sparked her desire to learn more about natural dying. In her search, she said she stumbled upon the book “Eco Color” by India Flint.
Flint’s story of natural dying, according to Smith, began as a child. One day, as a young girl, she said Flint noticed a leaf would leave a print when she went out to collect eggs. She then was inspired to see what would happen on fabric. “The prints she was creating were so mystifying to me that I needed to give it a try. Her book explained the basics, but didn’t really tell it all,” Smith said.
“I get to start the process by walking through a beautiful forest gathering up leaves, bark and whatever else I’m compelled to experiment with,” she explained. Smith said from this, she returns home to organize her cloth, places the bits of nature on and rolls it into a bundle tied very tightly to let it boil and steam in the natural dye.
“When I get impatient, the ceremony begins, usually with a beautiful sunset in the background,” she described. Smith then cuts the string holding the bundle together, rolls the bundle out and pulls back the leaves revealing the print. “As I clean up the mess, throw all the used leaves into a bucket, beauty in itself, I give it all back to nature.” The final step is ironing the following day. Smith said, “This is when even more of the beauty pops, another favorite part of it all. How could a form of art get any better than that?”
Harms of fast fashion
In regards to the current fast fashion culture of toxicity and cruel working conditions, Smith said, “It really tugs at my heart to see it, all the waste that is involved, the chemicals that are used and the conditions that people work in to create it all. Even the recycled plastic used for clothing makes no sense to me. Do you really want to wear plastic when you know of the chemical it emits, recycled or not?”
In their article “(Un)Sustainable transitions towards fast and ultra-fast fashion,” Tulin Dzhengiz, Teresa Haukkala and Olli Sahimaa explained, “Only textile dyeing and finishing are responsible for 20 percent of global water pollution, and 0.5 million tonnes of micro-plastics are released every year to the oceans due to washing clothes made of synthetic fibers.”
They continued, “The industry is also responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.” The scholars explain clothing production has nearly doubled over the last 15 years. According to the article, the clothing production industry includes “poor working conditions, [labor] rights, low wages, child labor and modern slavery.”
Student to master
At the start of her journey with this dyeing technique, Smith said she began trying different leaves on different fabrics. According to Smith, she was just getting fabrics that looked stained. “My son was living in [New York City], and wanted me to come visit and pet sit his iguana while he traveled. I used this opportunity to sign up for some natural dyeing workshops, but by this point, I was much more interested in the eco-print process, quickly becoming addicted.”
Smith said she bundled up some leaves along with fabric and mailed them to New York City. “When I arrived, I was excited to see my son but even more [so] to open my mail,” Smith said jokingly. Smith said she was blown away by the beauty and clarity of these echo print bundles. Smith explained, “From then on, I could not go for a walk without wondering what each leaf I passed would do on fabric.”
Smith said the process of natural dyeing and eco-printing is very meditative. “I’m just really grateful to have found a non-toxic art that I am truly passionate about and create a beautiful product to share with the world.”