Welcome to Behind the Seams, where we chat with FTA designers to learn more about their business and views of sustainability. This week we talk to Rachel MacHenry of Botanica Tinctoria, a producer of naturally dyed trimmings and threads for designers of sustainable textiles and fashion in a wide range of beautiful and fast colours.
1. What inspired you to start your line?
As a designer, I am deeply committed to sustainability and was interested in focusing my work on natural dyes and organic materials. In 2012, I made a research trip to India to meet with various natural dye houses. One of the dyers I met with was BioDye, in central India. Led by bio-chemist Dr. Bosco Henriques, they had spent 9 years researching ways to improve the natural dye process, applying current ideas about environmentalism and the scientific method to information they had gathered from the historical record. They did a lot of their historical research in the records of the East India Trading Company at the British Library in London.
2. How do you incorporate sustainability into your business?
I work with GOTS certified organic cotton and Eri silk (grown with a Fair Trade initiative run by tribal people in Northern India). The dyeing is all carried out through a closed loop system, using appropriate technology (solar power, fallen wood as fuel, composting, waste water retrieval, etc.), with all waste materials being re-used to grow the next generation of dye plants. I also work with a women’s lace making co-operative to create the hand-crocheted lace edgings (Fair Trade production). This group was first started by a Scottish female missionary, and the artisans are still using her Victorian pattern books to create their lace designs. All the materials are fully compostable after use!
3. What are some of the challenges you face as a business owner who is passionate about sustainability?
It has been very difficult to source some of the materials in organic cotton – all the trims are custom woven at an old, family-run mill in Gujarat, India. So far, I have not been able to obtain an organic embroidery floss and Perle cotton – I’m still looking… Another challenge has been connecting with designers and others interested in using the materials – it’s still a very new area, and the networks for information are not there yet.
4. What has been your biggest success thus far?
It has been wonderful to collaborate with BioDye – they have such knowledge and skill and have been able to obtain a truly beautiful palette of natural dye colours. As well, I’m really delighted to be working with the Sustainable Angle’s Future Fabric Expo in London, the UK. They have supported my line since the very beginning, and I have exhibited the materials at their London expo for the past two years. I also was very fortunate to have support from Polly Leonard at Selvedge Magazine, also in the UK. She has helped me so much, featuring the products in an article in the magazine, carrying them in her shop and promoting them to others as well.
5. What is your favourite sustainable material?
That is very hard!!! I love the Eri silk – it is a lustrous and smooth thread, but not shiny or glitzy, and takes natural colours beautifully! It’s also gorgeous when woven into fabrics; drapey, with a lovely hand and weight to the materials. And, hemp is also a wonderful fibre… and organic cotton… well, it’s just too hard to pick one!