Indigo garments trace back centuries. In ancient Europe and Central Asia, the woad plant Isatis tinctoria was used as the source for the dye; in Japan, Dyer’s Knotweed Persicaria tinctorium was used. Today, indigo-coloured dyes are used to give fabrics a remarkably deep, layered blue hue that gently fades with wear and washing, its beauty increasing as it ages.
At TOAST, we take inspiration from indigo garments around the world, from hardwearing cloth in southern China to pale blue shibori silks from Japan. We find beauty in block-printing from Gujarat, bold tie-dyes from Cameroon and pleated linen smocks from rural France.
While regional traditions are readily identifiable, the same techniques occur again and again – tie dyeing, resist dyeing – so curious similarities crop up all the way from Northern Europe to South East Asia. At TOAST, we use indigo-coloured dye for denims; for light and heavy linens; for cotton jerseys. We use it, woven for us in Italy, as a component of wool and cotton coatings. We use it in beautiful heavy cotton herringbones and double cloths. The mills we work with to create our indigo-coloured fabrics – one in Japan, one in Turkey – are innovative and, while focused on tradition, thoroughly modern in their approach.
Our Japanese mill is in Ibara, Okayama. The water used during the dyeing process is treated to Seto Inland Sea Regulation standards, allowing it to be returned to the river where the water irrigation systems are connected to the vegetable fields and rice paddies of Okayama.
It has taken the time-consuming, manual process of hank dyeing and remodelled it on a larger scale. By turning the yarns into ropes and building their own dyeing machine, they have expertly mechanised a traditional process. This way, to achieve the same intensity of blue, the rope only needs to be dipped and dried eight to ten times (instead of up to 30). The results are as spectacular as hand dyeing – with the same variation in shade and hand feel.
And our mill in Turkey, Orta, is dedicated to creating their indigo using a process called Indigo Flow, where the fabric is dyed with a technique that uses up to 70 per cent less water than regular processes. Founded in 1953, it began as a spinning and weaving mill before turning to denim production in 1985. We have been working with them for the past five years, driven by their use of organic, locally sourced cotton and the quality of the resulting fabric they produce.