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Indigo processing

“In the last 18 years, we have experimented with the dye yielding properties of more than 50 plants of our area.”

Digoli indigo cultivation field-high

“This plant grows wildly in the Himalayas but we don’t want to encourage rampant harvesting of this plant, and so we’ve decided to treat it as a cultivated crop"

Extraction Machine at Dharamghar

“We have planted more than 1500 trees that yield colour, thereby restoring the ecosystem and biodiversity.”

Walnut with open husk

“We are using local walnuts hulls to produce a wonderful brown. The beauty in this is that this colour is made from waste.”

mordants

“We have applied our colours to produce many finished products and have patent pending for five of the lines.” 

Pomegranate grinding
Seed Removal Myrobolan

“We are in conversation with Asian Paints, Well Spun and Raymond to begin the process of integration of natural dyes in their production processes.”

Sieving Pomegranate
AI9_6_2017_4_12_56_AM_Avani_mi.jpg
Workspace 31 Aug 2017

Uttarakhand-based Avani Society uses over 50 local plant species to create natural dyes

Rashmi Bharti and Rajnish Jain founded Avani Society in 1999 in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in India. Right from the very beginning, Avani’s aim was to generate income “for local people using only local skills and local, environmentally-friendly materials”. For the last 18 years, they have successfully managed to execute this mission through their endeavours, which mainly includes creating sustainably harvested and produced tints, dyes, textiles and garments.

Natural dyes and the environment

Creating natural dyes and other products from it is a big part of what Avani does. Of course, natural dyeing in the Himalayan region is an age old concept mainly led by the native Shauka tribe. When Avani entered the picture, however, they realised that this craft was not only dying, but also a lot of the plants used for the purpose were harmful to the ecosystem. 

Indigo processing

“In the last 18 years, we have experimented with the dye yielding properties of more than 50 plants of our area.”

With extensive research and experimentation over the years, Avani has now identified more than 50 plant species that can be used to create colours in a way that actually helps the environment. 

Digoli indigo cultivation field-high

“This plant grows wildly in the Himalayas but we don’t want to encourage rampant harvesting of this plant, and so we’ve decided to treat it as a cultivated crop"

Particular plant species and their effects

According to Rashmi, Avani began its work in 1999 by using plant-based colours. They use plants that are either plentifully available or can be grown locally. In the last 18 years, they have planted more than 1500 trees that yield colour, thereby restoring the ecosystem and the biodiversity of the region. 

Extraction Machine at Dharamghar

“We have planted more than 1500 trees that yield colour, thereby restoring the ecosystem and biodiversity.”

"About six years ago, we decided to cultivate the dye plants on wastelands. This has led to the first ever cultivation of Indigofera Tinctoria in the Indian Himalayas. We are now working with more than 150 farmers to grow this variety of indigo to produce the AVANI Himalayan Blue that is 100% organic. We are also testing the growing of Indian Madder (Rubia Cordifolia) with farmers,” says Rashmi. 

“This plant grows wildly in the Himalayas but we don’t want to encourage rampant harvesting of this plant, and so we’ve decided to treat it as a cultivated crop. It has a three-year cycle and it’s more difficult for the farmers to commit to that. We are looking for crop insurance models for the farmers that encourages them to grow it on wastelands.” 

mordants

“We have applied our colours to produce many finished products and have patent pending for five of the lines.” 

“About six years ago, we decided to cultivate the dye plants on wastelands. This has led to the first ever cultivation of Indigofera Tinctoria in the Indian Himalayas.”

Research, surprises and incentives

When asked if any particular plant was a surprise during the research, Rashmi points out that they are using a plant that is the third-most invasive species of Asia to get colour. 

Pomegranate grinding

“This colourant was a surprise as it is destroying forests across the Himalayas. We have been using this plant for textile dyeing for the past 18 years and then we began producing pigment and extract from it about 12 years ago. We have installed a dye extraction unit that produces dye powders from this plant. We have applied for a patent for the product line that we have created with this plant.” 

An interesting fact is the use of the local walnuts hull to produce brown colour. Avani has planted more than 3000 walnut trees in the region where the farmers get good quality walnuts to eat/market, and they are able to sell the green hull to the Earthcraft Cooperative, which then processes it to make the brown colour. 

Walnut with open husk

“We are using local walnuts hulls to produce a wonderful brown. The beauty in this is that this colour is made from waste.”

This gives an incentive to the farmers to increase the forest cover and also increase their income. On the other hand, it produces a plant-based colourant that can be used for many applications. 

Large-scale applications in future

Avani has also applied their colours to produce many finished products and has patents that are pending for five of the lines. Says Rashmi, “We currently make 100% beeswax natural crayons; 100% natural watercolour (tubes); printing paste/powder for direct application for printing thereby reducing the steps of processing these colours; wood stains – 100% plant based colourants; textile colourants in three forms – raw dye powders, extracts, pigments; and colourants for cosmetics – we have made eye shadow with our pigments.” 

Seed Removal Myrobolan

“We are in conversation with Asian Paints, Well Spun and Raymond to begin the process of integration of natural dyes in their production processes.”

“Avani has planted more than 3000 walnut trees in the region where the farmers get good quality walnuts to eat/market, and they are able to sell the green hull to the Earthcraft Cooperative, which then processes it to make the brown colour”

Most of these products are already available for being used by other brands or the industry. Avani is also in conversation with big companies such as Asian Paints, Well Spun and Raymond to begin integrating natural dyes into the large-scale production processes. 

Sieving Pomegranate

Avani also recently collaborated with Google Art & Culture to create various interesting exhibits of their work, including one exhibit on the process of creating natural dyes and applying dyes called Colors of the Earth.