#imajinspires: Natural Dye ≠ Tie Dye
What is IMAJI Studio? We are a natural dye fabric studio.
No, NOT ‘tie dye’. 
Natural Dye.
Let me explain to you the difference: ‘Tie Dye’ is a method used to color fabric. It’s simple, you tie the fabric and you dye it.



You can dip the whole fabric in a dye you have prepared or you can use bottles now to paint the dye unto the fabric. Although it gained popularity during the Hippie era in the US (1960s), it is an ancient technique found in India, Japan, and China even dating back to the 6th Century. In ancient times, cultures use this technique to create motifs on fabric by using plant-based dyes found in the area. It also rose to popularity since the 20s in the US during the great depression because it’s a cheap and effective way for people to decorate their garments and their homes. The 60s and 70s however created a new wave of ‘tie dye’ trend in the US, very much influenced by the psychedelic subculture that painted the music and art scene. It is seen as a symbol of peace, an anti-war movement, and a colourful escape from the strict societal norms. 

Today the ‘tie dye’ technique is making a comeback and everyone is rocking their tie dye sets. Perhaps today’s trend is a mirror or Gen Z’s practical solutions to express their creativity. On the positive side, there has been a rise in DIY culture where people start experimenting simple ways to create things with their own hands and becoming more aware on their consumption habits. Tie dyeing their old shirts with a pre-purchased DIY kit and creating something new they are giving solutions to a world full of over consumption. But there has also been a major influence by big fashion brands and big global ‘influencers’ rocking their tie dye sets creating a bigger demand for this particular trend. The problem however, most of the ‘tie dye’ sets you see with this big and mass produced brands are not actually tied and dyed, they are printed. The term ‘tie dye’ itself has become so overused to describe the motif rather than the process.

The process which always hold a cultural meaning behind them has once again been overshadowed by the overconsumption of the term.

I see this happening again when the mass fashion industry appropriated  the term ‘batik’. Most people, will associate ‘Batik’ with the flowery repetitive motif worn in most Fridays in Jakarta’s towering office buildings. They see it as an aesthetic instead of its original definition, ‘batik’ by definition is:

"A method (originally used in Java) of producing colored designs on textiles, having first applied wax to the parts left undyed.”

When a flowery traditional motif is printed unto the fabric therefore is not BATIK, it’s just a regular shirt with batik-like motifs. You can create batik with contemporary motifs as long as the process holds true to the traditions, by applying wax to the undyed parts and then dyeing the fabric. The appropriation of the term has cut the most essential part of the word short, the process. The process that includes the people behind them, the craftsmanship, the philosophies of each of the motifs, and the tradition.


See contemporary brands doing 'batik' right: Populo Batik, Delapan Batik, Pithecantropus Bali 


 So let me get back to my side of the story.

‘Natural Dye is when we use plants, roots, flowers or sometimes fruits native to the area as colorants for our fabric. IMAJI Studio uses 6 types of plants for all of our colors:

Indigo for blue
Sappan wood for red
Mango leaves for yellow
Bungur for grey
Ketapang for black
Mahogany for brown


All the colors in between is a mix of these six primary colors, you don’t get neon shades through plants but what you get is a rich earthy color palette.

Natural dye is a long time tradition used to color all sorts of fabric all across Indonesia. We are so rich in nature that each culture has their own recipes and formulas on what plants to use.

For example, tumeric can also be used for yellow and you can produce red by rosella too. It all depends on the local plants that can be found in the native area. These plants when processed differently can be found in drinks, food, and even traditional herbal medicines for the locals. Natural dyes can only stick to fabric that are from natural fibers, it will not stick to polyester fabric.

That’s why IMAJI Studio uses handwoven fabric of fabric made from only natural fibers, it’s much cooler to use in Indonesia because of our tropical climate. 


With natural dye you can use all sorts of method to create any motifs you want. Here in IMAJI Studio, it’s where the fun begins. We get to experiment on different methods to create contemporary motifs. With help from our awesome artisans, we always have our vision come to life even if it takes forever.

Our methods range fabric to fabric depending on what motif we want to achieve. We have dabbled using airbrush, sponges (for stamps), wax and even edges of toilet paper cones. One of the most interesting method that we tried is by using an acrylic stencil for a figurative image then using the airbrush. The most common method we use is freehand painting and stamping with sponge because it’s most convenient to get exactly what we envisioned. 


We hope this is clear that NO we are not a ‘tie dye’ brand because that description just cuts our blood sweat and tears designing and creating all these hand crafted beautiful fabric short.

It reduces us to a single method and is actually quite the opposite of who we are as a brand that tries as many diverse methods as possible to innovate and create colors that are gifts for us by mother nature.

We don’t oppose the method at all, instead we have used it several times but that’s not all we are. I hope writing this opens another window of self reflection on how we are as consumers. Educate and empower!


By: Shari Semesta 

Written by Imaji Studio