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Garment Printing with a Conscience

(October 2004) posted on Fri Nov 12, 2004

Making social and environmental issues a priority in your daily operations may not seem practical when turnaround times and finances are tight. But if you follow the lead of garment printers who have researched the effects of sweatshop labor, chemically treated cotton, and ecologically unfriendly inks, you may just change your mind.

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

While T.S. Designs went the high-tech route in developing a more sustainable approach to garment decorating, Planet Ink, a North Ft. Myers, FL-based screen printer, decided that going back to basics was best. Planet Ink uses an all-natural dye/ink formula of the same name. Planet Ink is a biodegradable, water-based ink composed entirely of renewable resources.

The patented approach, developed ten years ago by co-owner Shari Shifrin, starts with sodium alginate, which she describes as a powdered sea kelp derivative. The sodium alginate is the ink's carrier, and it's water based. "One-fourth cup of powder to one gallon of water is enough to make a carrier for two gallons of our ink," she says. Planet Ink requires the use of a home-brew emulsion, which Shifrin has since contracted to a manu-facturer that can produce it to her exact specifications.

Shifrin describes Planet Ink as a natural staining process. "It's a subtle imprinting that penetrates the fiber and becomes part of the garment," she says. "You can't get it off." Planet Ink colors are prepared daily. They have no shelf life, as the ink's properties and viscosity quickly revert back to water. And each color is an ongoing experiment of sorts. "If I get indigo from the same place two months out of the year, I'll have two different colors of ink made with the exact same recipe because the amount of sun and water that the plants actually absorbed in the time period before harvest affect the color content," she explains.

Each day, ground plant materials, minerals, and organic extracts make Planet Ink colors. Shifrin and company start with a base recipe and add ingredients as necessary to achieve a desired color. "Our base formula and carriers are consistent," Shifrin says. "But the colorants are never consistently sourced, so the recipe changes every day. A mortar and pestle is still a viable tool in this place."


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