Malaysian tie and dye fabric maker uses dye water to fertilise her plants


On average, it can take between one hour and 24 hours to extract natural pigment from an indigo plant. Photos: Siti Shaqira Ramli

Tie and dye fabric maker Siti Shaqira Ramli, 31, isn’t worried about water pollution when she discards litres of coloured dyes down the drain.

She uses natural dyes with pigments that are not harmful to the environment. She can even use the the residue water to fertilise her plants.

“Natural dyes are the best because they are from all things natural. Alum, soda ash and hydrated lime – ingredients used to make natural dyes – are food-grade ingredients and a safer alternative. Little steps (like using natural dyes) can make a big difference.

“Some natural dyes are medicinal too. Indigo dye is believed to have anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, ” said Siti Shaqira.

Siti Shaqira likes to works with natural dyes because they biodegradable.

Pieces of wild sappan wood are soaked and boiled to extract its rich natural colour. Pieces of wild sappan wood are soaked and boiled to extract its rich natural colour.

“It is amazing how Mother Earth has created so much beauty in natural dyes. Most are of plant origin and extracted from roots, berries, and leaves. There’s so much satisfaction working with natural dyes, going through the process of extracting dyes from nature and using it on fabric, ” said Siti Shaqira, who co-founded Bohomys, a homegrown tie and dye fabric label, with her husband, Fiqrie Jusdean, 29.

The former events manager left the corporate world in 2017 to launch her home business. It was her interest in tie and dye art and fabric that inspired her to switch careers.

The mother of two works with mainly natural indigo dye to dye her cotton fabrics which are stitched into face masks, tote bags and kaftans. She also uses natural dyes derived from mulberry leaves, sepang wood, ketapang leaves and acacia bark.

Colours produced by natural dyes and pigments are vibrant and safer compared to synthetic dyes. Colours produced by natural dyes and pigments are vibrant and safer compared to synthetic dyes.

“There are so many types of natural dyes in Malaysia and I’m still learning how to extract the colours from mangosteen skin, beetlenut leaves and mangrove bark. We have so much resources around us this is one way to move towards sustainability, ” said Siti Shaqira, who learnt about natural dyes and tie and dye techniques from books, social media platforms and in workshops.

Among all-natural dyes, Siti Shaqira loves the vivid hues derived from indigo dye the most.

“I call it a magical colour because the process of extracting the dye is so different. The dye is produced through an oxidation process where the powder is fermented. Fabric is dipped into the dye and it comes out green. But when it comes into contact with oxygen, it turns blue, ” said Siti Shaqira, who obtains indigo dye, silver dye (derived from cedar trees) and red resin dye (lac insects) from India.

Siti Shaqira admits it can be a painstaking process to produce natural dyes. On average, it can take between an hour to 24 hours to extract natural pigments from an indigo plant.

But she doesn’t mind.

“I’m doing my bit to save the environment. The colours from natural dye fade but if we take care of the fabric, they can last longer. We have to change our mindset and not see faded things as ugly. And if you don’t like it’s fading, redye it.”

Siti Shaqira and Fiqrie are passionate about helping underprivileged youths learn new skills. Siti Shaqira and Fiqrie are passionate about helping underprivileged youths learn new skills.

Empowering underprivileged youth

The more Siti Shaqira learns about natural dyes and botanical resources, the more she wants to share what she’s discovered with others, particularly youth.

Last year, Bohomys launched Up-skill, Create and Earn, a training programme to upskill and empower youth from the B40 community around their neighbourhood. Along the way, she hopes to educate them on the beauty of natural dyes and about sustainability.

“Fiqrie and I came up with the idea during the first MCO as we needed part-timers to help us cope with our high volume of orders. We launched the programme as a way to assist B40 youth from our community. Our programme is not to give them a permanent job but we hope we can help them learn a skill so they can earn better with side jobs, ” she says.

Nursyafiqah (left) has learned how to sew and is earning a steady income. Nursyafiqah (left) has learned how to sew and is earning a steady income.

So far, two young women have signed up for Siti Shaqira’s four-month sewing apprenticeship.

Participant Nursyafiqah Zaharin hopes the training will shelp her attain self-reliance and earn an income. Even though Nursyafiqah dropped out of school at the age of 15, she is happy to be able to learn a new skill.

“What I like best is I have a chance to earn extra money. I am one step closer to being able to stand on my own feet. Thanks to the training, I am running a sewing business from home, where I can earn about RM1,000 a month, ” said Nursyafiqah, who currently earns about RM400 as a part-time tailor for Bohomys.

Siti Shaqira is hopeful her training programme will garner more interest among underprivileged youth – especially those wanting to learn skills like carpentry, sewing, tie and dye fabric making and interior decoration.

“I hope a community centre will be opened where more youth can join these free classes. We want to give school dropouts an alternative where they can earn a living and break the cycle of poverty. And along the way, I hope they will have a better appreciation for natural dyes too, ” she concludes.

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