Dirt may seem like an unusual starting point for a clothing collection, but Hyun Jin Jeong of Earth Dyeing is doing just that. As novel as it sounds, the technique isn’t new—people have been using soil to imbue their garments with vibrant reds and balmy yellows for centuries. Ancient and mostly forgotten, the art of earth dyeing uses soil from different geographic regions to create a varied if subtle color palette. Chemicals in the textile-dyeing industry have a troubling legacy, Jeong says, but natural dyes are often seen as niche or impractical. “I tried to develop a new dye method in response to these issues and [communicate] the value of soil as a resource,” she tells Central Saint Martins’s “Textile Futures” blog.

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For her master’s thesis, Jeong collected 45 different soils across South Korea and the United Kingdom. She was able to categorize them into seven different color families, creating a range of vivid hues to draw from. After some experimentation, Jeong managed to apply soil-based paint directly to fabric, resulting in beautiful designs accented by pale washes of ochre, rust, sienna, and granite.

For her master’s thesis, Jeong collected 45 different soils across South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Jeong sees her efforts as only the beginning. “My vision of textile futures is the rediscovery of everyday materials from nature,” she says. “There are many different natural materials that were once used but are now forgotten. I think rediscovering these materials and using them wisely is essential for a sustainable future.”

+ Earth Dyeing