The first synthetic dye ever discovered was mauve. Found accidentally by William Henry Perkin, who at just eighteen discovered a purple colour leaching out of some coal tar he was experimenting with.
He spilt some alcohol and the resulting solution stained his silk scarf purple. This was in 1856 and some of Perkin’s dyed samples remain colourfast to this day! – And so William’s efforts to drive sales of his new synthetic dye lead to the birth of the entire chemical industry.
The Dyestuffs Industry.
The dyestuffs industry was largely based on chemicals obtained from coal tar, a black, viscous by-product of gas production from coal. Initially regarded as a useless and filthy nuisance, coal tar turned out to offer an unimaginably rich treasure trove of chemicals. It’s astonishing that until about 30 years ago, nearly all synthetic dyes were ultimately derived from coal tar (and not only dyes, but chemicals like carbolic acid, TNT and saccharin – Open Univerisy
The industry brought with it vivid colours and ease of use. However, with these advantages came toxic waste products and a reliance on fossil fuels. The dye industry produces over 500,000 tons of colourants each year. It disposes of it according to local laws – which are variable.
There’s been a reaction too against all manner of artificial colourings. Even within the last thirty years Smarties would have been used to test for allergies to colours. So maybe now is a good time to have a think about how we colour our world and to herald the return of some of the first pigments used by man.
Our range of natural dyes and auxiliaries are certified by GOTS – The Global Organic Textile Standard and are made by producers who care not only for the environment but also for their workers.
William Henry Perkin was somewhat a product of his time. While the industrial revolution was perfect for the launch of his industry, we feel that it’s time to properly move on. It’s time for a new revolution, a step forward to more natural dyestuffs and a sustainable management of people and planet.