Every day we’re flooded with alarming warnings about the modern lifestyle and its impact on the environment, from dyes and pesticides to plastics. As eco-awareness increasingly sweeps across the world, it’s refreshing to remember the natural, sustainable practices in places such as Peru. Natural dyes and fabrics are not simply a trend in Peru; they are a way of life. Peruvian textile methods are a time-honored tradition, with roots that extend back hundreds of years, well before the advent of chemicals and synthetic dyes.
The bold red hues that characterize many Andean textiles often start with a bug: the Cochineal. As early as the 15th century, the Aztecs and Mayans were extracting red carmine dyes from the cochineal, a scale insect that resembles a beetle. Cochineal feed on the prickly pear cactus, which thrives in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
Foraged wild flowers are used at length in the production of yellow and orange dyes. The most commonly used are the flowers of the Qolle tree or Quico flowers, both indigenous plants of Peru. By simply boiling the flowers with the yarns (most often alpaca) for various lengths of time, Peruvians are able to achieve an impressive spectrum of oranges and yellows. Orange dyes can also be extracted from a type of lichen that grows on rocks, known as Qaqa Sunka, which translates from Quechua to mean “beard lichen.”
Probably the easiest of all dyes to find in nature is the color green, which can be derived from a gamut of plant and mineral sources. In Peru, Ch’illca, a green leafy shrub with white flowers, is one of the most common sources for green pigment, especially around Cuzco.
Indigo is one of the oldest and most coveted dyes in the world. It was used extensively throughout ancient India to create gorgeous textiles and for centuries blue clothing was seen as a status symbol, being worn only by royalty.
Of course, there are many beautiful textiles and garments produced without any dyes at all. Alpaca fleece is available in a beautiful range of natural colors, including black, grey, white and caramel.Boho Hoodie (can you believe that’s undyed?) and the Sullivan Minidress. Our Coca bags are a true cultural gem too, embodying the textile genius of the Peruvians: hand-woven in the ancient tradition and hand-dyed from natural sources. You can also look forward to a gorgeous rug coming up in our Gift book, artisan made by hand with sustainable fibers and natural dyes. Here’s to being naturally fabulous!