Indigo dyes are extracted from the plant Indigo Tinctoria, and India is believed to be the heart of the Indigo tradition. The primary supplier of indigo to Europe during the Greco-Roman era, the word indigo originated from the Greek word indikón (ινδικόν, Indian). Indigo has been highly influential in many other cultures as well. For the Tuareg nomads of West Africa, indigo is associated with wealth, while indigo has been a mainstay in Japan since the 1600’s when only aristocracy wore silk and indigo was the most accessible dye for cotton/hemp. Many of the Japanese boro textiles the Cargo carries are made from indigo dyed cotton and hemp.
Indigo is still the darling of many couture designers, a mainstay for decorators, and the soul of the American worker’s uniform. The first blue jeans were made with indigo: Levi Strauss combined warp threads dyed in indigo and white weft threads to create the signature denim blue that we know today. As the natural indigo dyeing process is not as cost effective for mass production, most contemporary denim is dyed using synthetic indigo.
Natural indigo has a high proportion of impurities which allows for rich color variations. The blue of each garment, like a fine wine, depends on where the flower was cultivated and on the weather at the time. This is the main difference with synthetic indigo which produces an unvarying matte blue. There are also several ecological factors to take into account: whereas natural indigo and the water made to produce it can be reused as fertilizer and irrigation, synthetic indigo produces many chemical bi-products and hazardous waste.
Cargo’s exclusive line of clothing from India reflects the unique, rich qualities of natural indigo. New items are coming in regularly, so check for more postings or come in to our Portland Central Eastside store.
Each piece’s design, developed by Cargo’s owners with Indian tailors, combines traditional Indian fashion with contemporary Japanese design. They are handmade in small batches, featuring hand-block printing and hand-stitching. As this is a natural dye, just like a good pair of dark jeans, the blue may wear off of the wearer’s skin until the fabric has gone through one wash cycle and is set with white vinegar. (Cargo sends along washing instructions with each garment sold.) In addition to our clothing line, we also sell many indigo textiles from around the world.