"An estimated 1.2 billion pairs of jeans are sold each year worldwide. The magic behind this timeless piece of clothing is none other than the 50 shades of blue — indigo to be precise.
Indigo is a color, a plant, and a specific molecule. And while there are 5,000-year-old traditions of using natural indigo in places such as India, Japan, and Guatemala, most indigo on the market today is derived from non-renewable fossil fuels — and thus unsustainable.
But Tennessee-based Stony Creek Colors (SCC) is changing that. Started in 2012 by Sarah Bellos, SCC is the first company in the United States to grow the indigo plant at a scale usable by the commercial denim industry."
"Here’s how you make the indigo that gives most denim its signature blue: like many things in peak-oil America, you start by drilling down. Extract petroleum from the earth and then subject it to high-heat, high-energy conditions in order to break it up into its component molecules. One, called benzene, is isolated and then mixed with a host of other chemicals, including cyanide and formaldehyde. The process produces ammonia as an off-gas. “It takes over half a pound of cyanide to make a single pound of indigo,” Sarah Bellos, the CEO and founder of Stony Creek Colors, explains."
"Glossy plants with distinctive purple-green stalks and knots of compact magenta flowers crowd together in a sprawling field outside Nashville. Mosquitos dart around in the Tennessee dawn as a huge machine harvests a crop of natural indigo. It’s a gathering not seen in this area for over a century, a sign of how America, the natural home of denim, is mapping out a sustainable mass-market future using small-scale, artisanal ideas."
"For millennia, civilizations have extracted indigo dye from plants, creating a product that by the 18th century had become a driver of global economics. But, as the 20th century began, global output of natural indigo fell by over 90% as synthetic indigo took its place. With recent trends toward naturally derived alternatives for synthetic materials in processed foods, consumer goods, and other markets, the $427-million global market for indigo dye — whose synthetic building blocks include benzene, formaldehyde, and cyanide — represents an opportunity. Natural indigo dye and its parent agricultural crops could benefit from more than 100 years of advances in chemistry, chemical engineering, and agricultural science."