Solution dyeing involves adding pigment directly to the molten plastic solution before the fiber is made.
Patagonia is primarily invested in solution dyeing for its environmental impact: This process can result in up to 90% water use reduction and 96% CO2e savings overall compared to a conventional batch dyeing process (using synthetic dyes), with considerably less chemicals released from the overall process.
Solution dyeing diverts from traditional wet processing. Pigment is added to the molten plastic before making the fiber. Since the yarn is created in a specific color (versus being first created, and then dyed), the color becomes entrapped within the yarn. Imagine little pigment molecules that become trapped inside a plastic after it cools to a solid form. Because the color becomes intrinsic to the yarn through solution dyeing, it often yields stronger fibers than batch dyeing, which weakens and damages the fiber’s integrity.
We use solution dyeing for its reduced environmental impact
Where We Are
We first started solution dyeing our luggage—the heaviest products by weight in our line. We’ve learned that heavier fabrics are more economical to solution dye because the supply chain is priced out by weight. The amount of pigment used is relative to the tons of pellets (the little plastic pieces used to make synthetic yarn) that are used. Essentially, it becomes more cost-efficient to solution dye fabric that is heavier because we don’t have to commit to as many yards—yarn manufacturers sell by weight not by yardage.
Currently, we are exploring solution dyeing with fleece fabrics which are also pretty heavy in weight. We can also make the solution dyeing process more cost-efficient by committing to our tried and true colors, like blacks and blues, which we can order in larger quantities.
One of our main goals with solution dyeing is to reduce the amount of water used in the textile-coloring process. Other water-free dyeing techniques are being developed, and companies (including Patagonia) are building a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of this process.
One of the downsides of solution dyeing is that it’s applicable only to synthetic fibers. But, strides are being made to change how organic fibers can be dyed in a more sustainable way—even though research and experimentation is still at an early stage. Cotton, for example, can be grown in different colors to achieve new pigmentation, but this brings with it a host of other challenges at the agricultural level.
We are looking for any efficient dyeing technologies and techniques and strive to adopt new options that become available. Ultimately, solution dyeing will be part of a portfolio of technologies that reduces our impact on the planet.