Elderberry red, chestnut brown, sage green – colors can have an elating, calming or even invigorating effect on us. But dyes can also influence the environment, so there are a lot of good reasons to consider very carefully when choosing colors for products.
Cosima, who is responsible for material development in the Wildling Shoes Product team, explains in an interview which criteria is used to make decisions for or against certain dyes at Wildling Shoes.
Can you share a little of what such a dye-finding process looks like at Wildling Shoes, Cosima?
It all starts with the "Design Walk" in the Product team. In order to decide on the color scheme of a model, we first ask ourselves a few important questions: What kind of shoe are we planning? What is it meant for – is it intended for adults or for children?
A "Design Walk" is comparable to a kick-off or preliminary meeting. After that, adjustments are made, elements that might not fit into the plan for the season after all are discussed, and the whole concept is smoothed out again. This process takes about three weeks.
It sounds like you must pay attention to quite a lot at the same time. How do you get started?
First, the color selection is made. Above all, it is important for us to have a coherent overall concept. There are obviously trend colors for clothing, but we only adhere to them to a very limited extent. I would rather refer to summer and winter colors in the Wildling Shoes color spectrum. We are considerately funneling which ones it will be in the end for the respective season.
What factors go into making color decisions?
We think about what is sustainable and what the community wants first. As a result, we end up with a relatively limited model-, and a very deliberate color-selection. So, for comparison: In the conventional clothing industry, one would have many different color themes for a season, such as a cool and a warm theme, and so on. As this is very resource-consuming, we don't do that. Instead, we rely on a mostly timeless collection with a few accents here and there.
The next step is then to see which material matches the respective dye – because not every dye looks equally good on every material. Imagine you have a sweater in dark blue and a blouse in the same shade – the two garments will still not look exactly the same color, because their material's texture is so different. And then the dye needs to stick to the fabric as well. So, it is also technology dependent. If we can use biodegradable dyes with our shoes, we will do it.
Almonds and beetroot; Image: Johanna Balzer | Wildling Shoes
For example, with the Earthcolors by Archroma?
Exactly. Archroma, who have their headquarters in Pratteln, Switzerland, produces dyes from by-products of the food and agricultural industry, i.e. from nutshells or beetroot. These dyes are only sold to authorized dyeing shops, where the fabrics for Wildling minimal shoes are then dyed. For the spring/summer season 2023 we have used two dyes from the Earthcolors spectrum of Archroma: “Clay Medium” and “Oak Medium” (Taupe). The base for the dye “Clay” is obtained from the waste of the food industry which is extracting sugar from beetroot, while “Oak” is made from almond peel leaving the edible part for food consumption.
The dyes are great for use on plant fibers – for example, cotton, linen, or hemp. Depending on which of these materials is used, the color turns out a little different.
In a nutshell: How Archroma makes Earthcolors
Archroma has succeeded in almost completely replacing the petroleum content in their dyes, which is 70 to 100% in commercial dyes, with vegetable waste. In their own production facilities near Barcelona, Archroma processes these materials into a powder, from which the dye is created by applying pressure and heat. The plant-waste substances are completely recycled. Archroma has developed and patented this special process.
How do you find out what the dye looks like on the shoe?
Each new Wildling Shoes model is tested. In the test lab, it is tested how the dye shows on the respective material and how durable it is when applied to the fabric. Sweat, rain, sunshine – these are all factors for potential fading, which are simulated there at the most extreme level. For example, a shoe is illuminated brightly day and night to analyze how quickly and to what extent the dye may fade. We will then receive the results on test strips so that we can evaluate whether we want to use the dye on the material. Once we are confident, we proceed to produce the shoe. And if it is well received by the community, chances are that there will be a successor in the same or a similar color next season, because we want to produce what makes our customers happy.
Cover image: Wildling Shoes