Naturally coloured cotton has been occurring in the wild by natural mutation. It was seen in India, Egypt and South America more than 5000 years ago. The Aryans of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa cultivated this in the Indo-Pak region in 3000 BC.
The arrival of industrial-scale spinning and weaving technology, vibrant chemical dyes, and a fashion market that supported voluminous production and consumption of white cotton, stymied the demand for coloured cotton.
During World War II (1939–1945) for example, there was a shortage of dyes, so green and brown cotton were grown and used. The fibers had not been bred for length after the war, so naturally coloured cotton fell out of favour again.
It's a lot of hard work for a plant to produce colour. The natural brown colour comes from water-soluble tannins and phenolics found on the surface and inside the lumen of the cotton fibers. The cotton fibre inside the boll takes to brown colour 40 days into the growth.
The colour intensifies with 6-7 days of exposure to sunlight after the boll bursts. Depending on local environmental conditions, the shade of the brown varies from one season to the other.
Kandu textile has been produced with maximum economic and ecological responsibility. The cotton is rain-fed and pesticide free with zero stress on natural resources. All hands involved in the production process right from the farmer to the weaver earn fair wages.
Sustainability of a textile is not only in the production process. True nature of sustainability becomes as much about the responsibility of the consumer.
The staple length of brown cotton makes the yarn coarser. Added to that, brown cotton sliver is spun in low-twist. The yarn is therefore treated with tapioca starch to strengthen it for weaving. Every washing of the fabric not only washes away the starch, but also further opens the twist in the yarn, making the cloth soft and supple, eventually.
Kandu fabric makes the wearer feel warm in winters and cool in summers because it is Ambara Charaka spun and hand-woven. Fondness towards Kandu textile is also a celebration of coarseness.
When the fabric is washed, the molecules reorient and tannins are released along with the surface wax which prevents the fiber from absorbing water. The intensity of the color increases with the first 10 washes. The color stabilizes after that.
Every 1 kilogram of conventionally grown and irrigated white cotton requires around 20,000 litres of water. In addition to that, bleaching, de-sizing, mercerizing and dyeing process of the yarn requires another 50 litres per kilogram making the entire process water intensive. Coloured cotton which is rain-fed and un-dyed, requires a negligible amount of ground-water making it one of the most sustainable ways of textile production.
Born coloured, Kandu textile is free from harsh dye-chemicals, and is therefore non-allergic with excellent UV protection properties, ideal for those who are conscious of dyes used in textiles.
The comparison is not about coloured against colourless, one can grow organic white cotton and use natural dyes to colour it, but when the cotton is never dyed at all, it is entirely natural. With naturally grown brown coloured cotton, we can avoid the entire dyeing process, limit the dye treatments, there is less usage of water, less wastewater, less consumption of chemicals, and hence less usage of energy, making it one of the most sustainably produced cotton fabric.
We have sometimes used naturally dyed yarn as a design element only to further enhance the beauty of brown cotton.
Some of the natural dyes used are: blue color which is extracted from Indigo-plant (Indigofera tinctoria), black color is produced out of iron rust fermented in jaggery, yellow color is derived from pomegranate peel (Punica granatum), brown color is extracted from the heartwood of Kaggali plant (Acacia catechu), brick red is produced out of roots of Madder plant (Rubia cordifolia)and scarlet red is derived from Alizarin which is a non-toxic byproduct of coal tar.
Like every life essential, brown coloured cotton also starts with the farmer near Dharwad. The harvested cotton is ginned locally. A small portion of lint is also sourced from UAS-Dharwad. Slivering is done at the Central Slivering Plant, Chitradurga. The yarn is spun and woven into cloth at Janapada Seva Trust, Melkote.
The seed-to-cloth process happens entirely within Karnataka state, India.