What is Azo-Free Dye?

The whole reason Q for Quinn exists is because we think that there should be more clothing options that are healthy for the people wearing them, and safe for the planet.

It’s why we only work with ethical manufacturers at factories we trust, use the most sustainable fabrics we can find, and insist on only using azo-free dyes. Azo dyes are incredibly common in many of the big textile manufacturing hubs internationally, though the underlying ingredients in these dyes have been banned in the EU, China and elsewhere. There are many reasons why a manufacturer would want to use an azo dye – they’re typically easy to use, work directly on the fabric without additional processing, impart strong colors, and work at a lower temperature than other dyes.

But it’s not that simple. Once a textile has been treated with an azo dye, the chemicals in the dye can split to form a compound called “aromatic amines.” These aromatic amines can potentially be dangerous to human health, and some research has shown a link between aromatic amines and bladder, liver and breast cancer. You can see a roundup of articles about aromatic amines, dyes and cancer risk from The Lancet here. Aromatic amines can be absorbed by the skin when they’re used on clothes. Do you want to wear clothes treated with a known carcinogen next to your skin? We don't either.

The bigger picture matters, too. Azo dyes don’t biodegrade under natural conditions and they aren’t broken down by standard municipal waste water treatment processes. That means the run-off from textile mills using azo dyes can put aromatic amines directly into the environment, and the dye that leeches out of clothes in the laundry can be passed to the local watershed (learn more about the risk here).

Working with azo-free dyes makes our manufacturing a little more complicated and makes our choice of color palette a little smaller. If that’s what it takes to make clean clothes that are the safest for our bodies and for the planet, it’s a trade we’re happy to make.

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