Every year, trillions of litres of water are used for fabric dyeing alone, generating around 20% of the world’s wastewater. Untreated, it is incredibly polluting, so it requires rigorous, lengthy, and costly treatment to make the water reusable.

Recently Ralph Lauren brought together four leading innovators, including Dow, to develop a way to significantly reduce the amount of water, chemicals, and energy needed to colour cotton, by enabling up to 90% fewer processing chemicals, 50% less water, 50% less dye and 40% less energy – without sacrificing colour or quality.

The Colour on Demand system uses a set of technologies that will enable the recycling and reuse of all the water from the dyeing process, to establish the “world’s first scalable zero wastewater” cotton dyeing system.

In addition to significant water savings, Colour on Demand dramatically reduces the amount of chemicals, dyes, time, and energy used in the cotton dyeing process. Most importantly, the system utilises the current dyeing equipment already in factories.

“If we want to protect our planet for the next generation, we have to create scalable solutions that have never been considered before. This requires deep and sometimes unexpected collaboration and a willingness to break down the barriers of exclusivity,” said Halide Alagöz, Chief Product & Sustainability Officer at Ralph Lauren.

According to a company statement, “To implement its ground-breaking approach, Ralph Lauren brought together four innovators in their respective fields, including Dow, a leader in materials science; Jeanologia, a leader in sustainable solutions for garment and fabric finishing, with high expertise in garment dyeing and close loop water treatment systems; Huntsman Textile Effects, a global chemicals company specialising in textile dyes and chemicals; and Corob, a global technology leader in dispensing and mixing solutions, to reimagine each stage of the colouring process and join this shared mission to create a more sustainable and efficient system for cotton dyeing.”

As part of the first phase of Colour on Demand, Ralph Lauren has optimised the use of ECOFAST Pure Sustainable Textile Treatment, which is a pre-treatment solution.And, they worked with World Wildlife Fund to accelerate the change of the fashion industry’s outdated practices, and to enable scale.

An Open Source Manual For Change

This month, the companies have jointly released a detailed open-source manual to create an even more meaningful positive environmental impact.

The co-developed, step-by-step manual details how to use ECOFAST Pure, a cationic cotton treatment developed by Dow, that utilizes already existing dyeing equipment.

“We are proud to share it openly with our industry, with the hope that it will help transform how we preserve and use water in our global supply chains,” said Alagöz.

Ralph Lauren began integrating Colour on Demand into its supply chain earlier this year and first launched products utilising ECOFAST Pure as part of the Company’s Team USA collection for the 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

“As fashion supply chains look to recover from impacts of the pandemic, there is a critical window to build more sustainable practices into production processes,” said Mary Draves, Chief Sustainability Officer at Dow. “By collaborating today to scale a less resource intensive dyeing process, we can help address pressing challenges, like climate change and water resiliency in the long-term.”