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Taiwanese designers demonstrate how natural dyes promote sustainable fashion

Lin Jie-Yi
Taiwanese natural-dye enthusiast Lin Jie-Yi has won awards for her designs. Photo by Charlie Smith

In 2021, the co-founder of the Tati Workshop in the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung received a prestigious honour. Lin Jie-Yi earned the title of “Taiwan Craft Artist” for how she incorporates natural dyes into her impressive designs.

During a recent visit to Vancouver, the Hakka craftswoman told Pancouver that she works with her parents at Tati Workshop. (Pancouver associate editor becky tu translated the interview from Mandarin.)

Lin designed the dress in the image above—entitled “Searching for the Memories” in Traditional Chinese characters—relying on natural dyes for the colours. It was included in LunarFest Vancouver’s Colours of Formosa exhibition at Granville Island.

Furthermore, this garment reflects Lin’s passion for sustainable design, which has won her many other awards. In addition, her work has been featured in design exhibitions in Tokyo, Munich, Paris, Beijing.

“We want to share knowledge of the use of plants and nature in art,” Lin said.

Sun Tsui Lan
Designer Sun Tsui Lan says that kumquat plants provide natural dyes in Yilan County, which is what inspired her yellow and green dress at the Colours of Formosa exhibition.

Taiwanese designers rely on different plants

Another Hakka designer, Sun Tsui Lan, also showed her work at the Colours of Formosa exhibition. She’s based in Yilan County. It’s about 60 kilometres south of the capital of Taipei.

Sun, chairperson of the Yilan Natural Dyeing Development Association, told Pancouver in Mandarin that this area in northeastern Taiwan is famous for its rich variety of fruits. Her naturally dyed yellow and green dress [photographed above] is inspired by Yilan’s plentiful kumquat trees.

“My work has a lot to do with environmentalism and the idea of going back to nature,” Sun said. “Once you harvest the fruit, people are free to re-use and recycle the plant itself to make the dye.”

Sun hopes that her designs will encourage the world to pay more attention to Yilan, which is buffeted by a humid sea breeze.

Chung Meng-Chuan
Chung Meng-Chuan relied on persimmons for dyeing this dress at the exhibition. Photo by Charlie Smith.

Persimmon provides dyes in Xinpu

Meanwhile, 126 kilometres to the east in Xinpu Township, people often dye cloth and other products with another fruit. Chung Meng-Chuan is with the Xinpu Persimmon Dyeing Association. She told Pancouver in Mandarin that it was created about 18 years ago to promote the use of this fruit in textiles and crafts.

Many years ago, Chung noticed that persimmon could dye fabrics. This led her to contact two Taiwanese experts on natural dyes, Chen Ching-Lin and his wife, Yu-Hsiu Ma, founders of Tennii Natural Dyeing Co. Ltd., They’re international leaders in this field.

Chung is director of the Xinpu Persimmon Dyeing Association, which initially hoped to encourage local people to make greater use of the plant. Even though a persimmon resembles a tomato, it’s really a berry. And association members knew that relying on husks to create dyes would be a new way to create value.

“The colour of persimmon dye is actually very durable,” Chung said. “It resists sunlight a lot compared to other natural-dye techniques.”

Persimmon
The Colours of Formosa exhibited persimmon-dyed crafts to like a tasty meal. Photo by Charlie Smith.

For many years, Japanese and South Korean craftspeople have used this plant to create natural dyes. Now, Taiwanese artisans have re-invigorated this practice in their country.

Moreover, it’s reached the point where the association is encouraging the export of persimmon-dyed crafts and textiles.

“We want to promote our products around the world,” Chung noted.

LunarFest Vancouver’s exhibition, The Colours of Formosa, ended on February 20. Follow Pancouver editor Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.