"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."
"At just 34 years old, Sarah Bellos is trying to revolutionize the fashion industry, starting with the most ubiquitous piece of clothing around: your denim."