Homes and gardens

Herbs in your bed

Introducing the country’s go-to brands for non-toxic bed linen infused with essential oils and flowers

K. Sivaraj grew up in Erode, by a gurgling, unpolluted Cauvery. He and a friend, A Thirumurugan, studied textile processing and technology, and worked in factories that used chemical dyes. They saw the toll it took on the water bodies; their Cauvery had changed too.

They decided to act. For more than a decade, they experimented on their own and learnt at The Gandhigram Rural Institute, to start Wruksha Tone, which has seven natural dyes that put to rest every criticism thrown at them — the colour is not fast, it is patchy, and you cannot replicate hues.

Colour rich

Hundreds of kilometers from Erode is Chennai-based Conscience, which makes bed linen coloured by these dyes. Helping bind the natural colours are everyday ingredients like honey, hand-pounded rice and radish juice. The sheets are washed with soapnut and coated with coconut, neem and basil oils to lend them anti-microbial properties. “Nothing is new; we’ve just discovered newer uses,” says Sivaraj, whose colours lend richness to Conscience’s collection.

The production process at Conscience

The production process at Conscience  

 

He explains how each region might use a locally-available material. Like banana stem juice. “We worked backwards on the logic that people normally avoid going near a cut plantain stem because it stains clothes, and it does not go away. So it is probably a fixer,” he says. “We created eco-friendly dyes and ensured the water we released is non-polluting. Our water is rich in potassium, ideal for raising banana, coconut and sugarcane.”

All things natural

This inter-linking of people sharing similar thoughts drives the ‘natural’ movement, be it in Chennai, Munnar (Aranya Naturals) or Ahmedabad (Aura Herbal Textiles).

Aranya Naturals

Aranya Naturals  

 

Nebu Thomas, who co-founded Conscience with friend V Bragadeesh, worked on the brand for nearly five years before launching it. “We would like people to buy our products (designed by Paris-based Yann Dechambre) because they are made with passion. That they are made of organic cotton, jute or banana fibre, and uses natural dye is incidental.”

From the garden

Ahmedbad-based Aura Herbal Textiles’ (shop.auraherbalwear.com) USP is herbal dyes. It uses plant materials, castor oil, medicinal herbs, and the like for dyeing fabric. The company claims to have taken a once-common practice (done by hand on a small scale) to scale it up with innovations in shades and prints.

Conscience

Conscience  

 

The fabric is finished using water, aloe vera and castor oil, and among the ingredients are haritaki (myrobalan), turmeric, indigo, madder, pomegranate and onion skin. Arun Baid of Aura sees a future where “natural dyes would be the only source of colour, or at least a potential replacement for chemical dyes — if not totally, at least majorly”. That’s a huge number, considering he says that “15% to 20% of the organic market is home textiles”.

Meanwhile, Thomas says they are careful even when choosing colours and look for renewable variants. “You can get yellow from sources other than turmeric. We use yellow bells (Tecoma stans). Similarly, why use pomegranate, a food source, for pink? Palash flowers work just fine. Our blue comes from sangupushpam (Clitoria ternatea).”

Staying power

How easy is maintenance? Baid, who supplies natural detergents on request, says, “Chemical detergents may be used, but they reduce the life of these sheets (priced between ₹2,000 and ₹3,000).”

To nay-sayers who question the durability and colour-fastness of natural dyes, Ratna Krishnakumar of Aranya Naturals, Munnar, says that if proper processes are followed, the colours last long. “You have to give it enough time. It’s a gradual, week-long process. And to those who wonder about scalability, it is possible, provided you have a large-enough set up. It is a labour-intensive process, and you have to open your heart and mind to spend a little extra for the work that goes into it,” she explains.

Maintaining standards

The market for products that use Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)-approved dyes (these must meet basic requirements on toxicity and biodegradability / eliminability) continues to be niche. Bengaluru-based Amouve makes sheets, quilts, duvets and pillow covers, and Tirupur-based LiRu has a range of super-soft organic cotton comforters in blue, grey and pink. But many others export. In fact, one of the exporters states that while people in the West are conscious about what they sleep on, and are prepared to spend the extra dollars, the trend is yet to get popular here. Hopefully, these brands will help change minds.

Conscience products — from ₹4,390 upwards — are available in Chennai (Kalpadruma), Hyderabad (Handpicked Store), and conscienceline.com.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 9:50:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/herbs-in-bed-linen/article19516495.ece

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