Upon seeing the first factory samples, most folks (even in our office) were calling this the “white” collection.
“It isn’t white!” I kept saying. “It’s UNDYED!”.
The idea for this collection came on the heels of successfully switching over all our black-colored products to use solution-dyed materials. For those that need a refresher, most of the materials in our industry come from some form of plastic chemistry (nylon, polyester, etc) that gets extruded and woven as raw, colorless bulk textile (referred to as greige). This bulk greige can then be divided up according to a brand’s orders and the pieces dyed separately as different colors in a process called “piece-dying”.
The upside to piece-dying is that the setup time and expense of weaving can be consolidated all together up front and warehoused, while the forecasting and commitment to trending and seasonal colors can remain flexible until the last possible moment. Good for fashion. Good for trend.
The downside is that it dirties a lot of water mixing dye baths and rinsing things clean. And these baths and rinses work better at high temperature, so lots of electricity is used heating water. And even more electricity is used drying the material prior to warehousing so that it doesn’t mildew in storage and transit. Bad for water consumption. Bad for CO2 emissions.
The solution-dying approach that we adopted for black starts back at the liquid plastic stage and colors the chemical nylon mixture before it gets extruded into filament, creating yarn that is already colored when it goes to the weaving mill. This allows us to skip all the water and electricity associated with piece-dying since the goods come off the loom already “dyed”.
Learn about our solution dying process in the video above.
This may sound straightforward, but successfully delivering our custom textiles in solution-dyed black took more than a year of headache, failure, and wasted fabric. The reason (which we learned the hard way) is that the traditional dying process imparts qualities and changes in the material beyond simply coloring it. Changes like softening or shrinking the textile through washing and rinsing in hot water that no one even realized were taking place because they had little experience making finished textile without these dying steps. Skipping the dyebath changed the recipe in fundamental ways that our mill partners had not accounted for.
It took trial and effort to deliver fabric with the same look and feel of our original piece-dyed goods, but without the dying piece.
Once the kinks of solution-dyed were worked out and the program was running reliably, it seemed a natural step to replicate this dyebath-free process with regular undyed yarn. Our mill had already anticipated this and had sample yardage available in short order. We unrolled the first lots on our cutting table in Bozeman.
The dull, off-white raw material had an experimental NASA feeling to it and was somehow more interesting and nuanced than the black we had been staring at for the past year and a half. It also came with a disclaimer from the mill. “Inconsistent color quality, staining, dirt, machine oil and other defects that would normally be washed out or covered over during the dying stage are to be expected and considered unavoidable.”
We weren’t really sure what to expect, or how to handle this new variable, but our first in-house sample of a CAP2 pouch gave us a hint of how involved this project would become. Clay did a great job sewing it, but the sample looked wonky. For starters we used the same black colored foam inside it that we use in all of our samples. The undyed fabric was sheer enough that the black foam gave it a gray cast, and showed all the seam allowances around the edges like an x-ray. This could be an okay look, but not all the products used foam like this, so it ruined the feeling of being a collection that way. We also didn’t have any undyed lining material, so used our Standard Gray fabric, which immediately begged the question why we would go to the trouble to create an undyed shell fabric and then dye the lining? Or anything else for that matter? We finished it off with a stock white nylon webbing for the top and bottom handles. But it was WAY too white, like a celebrity with fake teeth.
I guess it’s not white. It’s just UNDYED.
We discussed a variety of colorway approaches and different strategies to sort of tie all the parts together, but in the end knew that in order to be true to the concept, what we really needed was undyed EVERYTHING. Undyed foam, undyed lining and mesh, undyed webbing, undyed zipper chain. Undyed buckles? Undyed labels? Thread?
How far to go?All the way of course, or at least as far as reasonably possible.
Fortunately, piece-dying bulk greige is common practice for most of the materials involved, so the idea was not a huge leap for our suppliers. The biggest hurdle was assuring everyone that we understood the “inconsistent color quality, staining, dirt, machine oil and other defects that would normally be washed out and covered over during the dying stage” and that we would accept the materials that they delivered. I think a lot of them thought we were just paying lip service without really getting it. And that by the end, we would be demanding undyed materials in pure and perfectly matching white.
This required reassurance at every stage, and an explanation that the Marketing Team would tell the story and that the customer would understand and appreciate these inconsistencies as unique and true to the project and our efforts to save resources.
Of course there were other challenges and hiccups. Some materials simply were not available in anything other than black and had to be re-sourced. Others, like the molded parts don’t consume significant amounts of water to produce and come in white, black or colors. There really was no “un-dyed” option, certainly not one that had any environmental benefit. So we switched over to a recycled nylon that could be produced without colorants, but had limited part availability due to slightly different mechanical properties of the recycled plastic.
We exclusively use YKK zippers, and while they offer a variety of finishes, some of which appear more like raw cast metal, they simply would not supply us with unfinished sliders for this project over concerns about quality and long-term performance. I guess I can’t blame them. Everyone would be bummed if the zippers got weird, and it would all end up a waste anyway. So I respect their position.
In the end we gave each product a bold hit of Black in the areas that we couldn’t source as undyed and the rest is just what it is. We learned a lot along the way, and I think the project is this aesthetic manifestation of our conservation efforts. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do! We’re continuing to look at our environmental footprint and trying to make impact in ways that feel real to us and core to the industry that we’re involved in.