A Rainbow Palette


Ecotintes’ Future of Color

The range of shades, the shine and unique warmth of natural colors cannot be achieved with industrial colors. Beyond their esthetic qualities, natural colors respect nature and people. Ecotintes leads a natural color movement from Perú.

Ricardo Calmet spoke with HAND/EYE Magazine from his home in Chancayo in the north of Lima. An agrarian economist from the Universidad Agraria in Lima, Calmet joined forces with his daughter Daniella, a biologist, and his son Rodrigo, a zoologist, to create Ecotintes in 2007. The Calmet family is passionate about nature, agriculture, pre-Columbian traditions and Peru’s white gold, or cotton, and they created this unique company that mixes tradition, research, innovation, and sustainability.

Ricardo is in charge of the equipment and sourcing the supply of good quality cotton fibers. Rodrigo does the administration side of the business and leads the projects related to animal fibers specially camelids (llama, alpaca, guanaco), sheep, rabbit and angora.

While Daniella is responsible for developing the colors in the lab, making samples and testing. Her main challenge is to achieve consistency by standardizing natural colors, which is a new territory since science and technology need to catch up with natural colors, which have been abandoned since 1900 when the anilines invaded the market.

Ecotintes consists in providing local and international companies with the service of dyeing yarns or finished products with organic natural colors of the highest quality. Clients include Loomstate, Lutz and Patmos, Inca Tops, Naturtex and many companies from Europe, Asia, the US and South America.

There are several secrets for the success of Ecotintes. One of them is their location: their workshops are located by the Chancay River and their land has the luxury of having its own natural water source, a key requirement for the dying process. They also have the “chacras” where they have the magic coloring plants which include indigo to obtain blue; a native of Perú, molle Schinus molle, to achieve all shades of yellows; and for the reds, cochinilla for carmine and rubia tintoria alizarina brought from Turkey, and now grown in Calmet’s chacras. Red is one of the most challenging colors to achieve and one of the most expensive. In fact, the price of carmine has increased 5 times in the last year and it costs 100 dollars per kilo. This is due to the high demand of this mineral for the cosmetic industry. Other plants used to achieve darker shades include nogal, marañon, and tara. To fix the colors, baking soda, iron sulfate, milk, urine, and cow dung are used depending on the polarity of the fibers that are being dyed. Ecotintes does not use any toxic substances like chrome, zinc or copper. The entire process is biodegradable.

Another secret for Ecotinte’s success is the way the family has the business structured: they produce on demand and have the capacity to work with small and medium quantities. They do not have to keep up with the pressure of continuous production. Instead, they can produce lots of 10 kilos and on a busy month, they can reach 2-3 tons of dyed yarn. The entire process is manual, which provides employment for people in the area. For Ricardo, color is a universal concept that embraces all the steps in the value chain from the farmer, to the spinner, the women who do the dying, the drying, packaging, the designer and everybody involved in the process. This sustainable approach stands in contrast to the regular industrial fashion industry where the revenues are concentrated in the latest part of the chain.

Pima and Tanguis cottons, both native of Perú, have great affinity to the natural dyes. According to Ricardo, one of the consequences of the recession is that a lot of brands are opting for low quality cotton which in many ways means genetically modified fibers. This has an impact on the way colors behave when applied to low quality fibers.

Perú’s climate allowed for the preservation of very old textiles that can be witnessed at Lima’s museums, particularly at Museo A Mano, which specializes in pre-Columbian textile arts. Perú is blessed with an exuberant biodiversity, which was used by the ancestors to tell their stories and rituals in powerful textiles. Perú’s textile tradition is a well-kept secret that the world has yet to discover. High quality cottons like Tanguis from Cannete valley and Pima as well as camelid’s fibers such as vicuña, alpaca and llama, have been hand spun for centuries in rural areas and survive as testimonies of a centuries old tradition that needs to continue.

During the 1900s the invasion of chemical dyes affected the textile industry profoundly. Its chemical components derive from petroleum and are not renewable or biodegradable. The greatest effect had to do with the fact that research and experimentation with natural colors did not happen for a century. Ecotintes strives to fill this void with a serious research methodology, a constant search for documents, recipes, alchemical formulas and a permanent hands-on approach towards the creation of the colors of the future.