In this fast-moving world, we depend on many products without having the actual insight into how they are made or where do they come from. In a society where most of the people are unaware of the inherent linkage of agriculture with clothing or the currency notes, there is no wonder when people don’t have any idea of the existence of naturally coloured cotton. Let me narrate to you the story of naturally coloured cotton.
Beautiful history with incredible values!
Cotton as a raw material has a share of 60% for Indian textile industries. The cotton fibre with accumulated pigments in the lumen is naturally coloured cotton. It has a history of 5000 years and used for different purposes since time immemorial. Asia had the cultivational traces of tree cotton during periods of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. It has many hues among which shades of brown and green are the most common. The brown colour produced due to condensed tannins has many shades ranging from dark brown to mahogany red. The green colour results from the biosynthesis of caffeic acid in the wax layers. You will be surprised to know the unique features of fabrics made from naturally coloured cotton. They have high Ultraviolet Protection Factor values which confer protection of skin from harmful UV rays and brown fibres have anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant and free radical scavenging properties. Besides, fabrics are steadfast and the colour gets intensified on repeated washing unlike fading in dyed cloths. The most important advantage is that garments are free of chemical residues by eliminating the process of dyeing which will be healthier and softer for human bodies.
Despite the advantages, the area under cultivation of coloured cotton is negligible because of certain drawbacks. The most important reason is the low-quality fibre incapable of machine spinning and low productivity in comparison to white cotton followed by a limited range of colours and instability of colours especially green cotton which undergoes fading on overexposure to sunlight. As a result research area has also been faded in coloured cotton.
The twist and its consequence!
With the advent of the Industrial revolution and advancement in spinning technologies, the once cultivated naturally coloured cotton was replaced by superior white varieties which can be woven into fabrics imparted with any colour by the process of dyeing. Every year, more than 80,000 tons of reactive dyes are produced and consumed. We enjoy wearing clothes of different colours of our choice without knowing about behind the scene’s impact on the environment. According to the World Bank estimate, textile dyeing and finishing treatment account for 17 to 20 % of industrial water pollution threatening groundwater and aquatic animals.
Retracing the nature!
After so many years of practicing dyeing and shedding harmful wastes, the recent concerns on environmental health have resuscitated the consideration of naturally coloured cotton. This interest has evoked the need for genetic improvement in the standard of coloured cotton to sustain and cater to the demands of the textile industry. Here comes the role of plant breeders to develop agronomically and quality-wise superior naturally coloured cotton varieties. In 1988, Sally Fox of the United States developed naturally coloured cotton suitable for machine spinning and named it ‘Fox fibre’. Breeding efforts are being carried out to improve the colour cotton lines by crossing with superior white linted types.
The naturally coloured cotton is a fascinating natural resource gifted to agriculture. Its future is not only based on the genetic improvement but also on the expansion of market demand where consumers show interest in organic naturally coloured cotton rather than relying on synthetic dyes at least for the available limited colours. Let us look forward to and encourage eco-friendly processing to enjoy wearing chemical-free garments!
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