Cotton Incorporated, the folks behind those “fabric of our lives” commercials, has joined forces with Swiss dye specialist Archroma to synthesize what they are calling the world’s first ever dye created from cotton plant residues. Available in variations of brown, the new dye is a product of Archroma’s patented “EarthColors” technology, which creates biosynthetic alternatives to petrochemical-based colorants using agricultural and other natural waste. “As soon as we heard about the EarthColors technology, we wanted to explore the possibilities of cotton as a natural dye source,” Mary Ankeny, senior director of textile chemistry research at Cotton Incorporated, said in a statement. “Byproducts of cotton harvesting and ginning have been utilized within the food and construction industries for decades, but we were intrigued by the idea of using cotton biomass to dye cotton fiber.”

Cotton Incorporated, Archroma, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, textile waste, cotton waste, recycled cotton, upcycled cotton, natural dyes, nontoxic dyes, plant-based dyes, eco-textiles, eco-friendly textiles, sustainable textiles, eco-fabrics, eco-friendly fabrics, sustainable fabrics

Photo by Kimberly Vardeman


There’s no shortage of cotton biomass, Ankeny added. (For good or for ill, cotton is a massive—and thirsty—industry, both in the United States and abroad.) The global volume of cotton harvesting and ginning byproducts, including “burs, stems, immature bolls, lint, sticks, and leaves,” can swell to as much as three million tons every year.

The innovation may mark the first time in modern textile history that a fabric was created and colored using the same plant.

In fact, one 480-pound bale of cotton alone can produce 150 to 200 pounds of usable byproducts.

Besides its obvious sustainable appeal, the new dye also offers a “high level” of traceability in the form of a hangtag with a Near Field Communications chip, Archroma said.

Customers and consumers can use a smartphone to can unlock information about the dye-manufacturing process, as well as where the cotton was grown and ginned.

RELATED | Blond & Bieber’s “Algaemy” Uses Microalgae to Dye Textiles

It only stands to reason that the dye was designed to be compatible with cellulosic fibers—cotton included.

Plus, the innovation may mark the first time in modern textile history that a fabric was created and colored using the same plant, according to Cotton Incorporated and Archroma.

“We are grateful to Cotton Incorporated to have brought us this challenge,” said Nuria Estape, head of textile specialities, global marketing, and promotion at Archroma. “Archroma strives to challenge the status quo, and our EarthColors technology demonstrates our dedication to support and inspire sustainable fashion with warm colors that can be traced from the field to the shop.”

+ Cotton Incorporated

+ Archroma