If you ask, almost everyone would take a huge pride in the thriving arts and crafts industry in Bangladesh. However, only a few of them are working to keep this particular piece of economic backbone healthy. Ruby Ghuznavi is one of them. As the Chairperson of the Natural Dye Program of the World Crafts Council, she is on a crusade to make the advanced use of natural dyes, which are truly the uncut gems of the many artistic skills in our country, popular.

From designing natural-dyed fabrics, to researching the use of dyes both in home and abroad, to even writing a few books on the matter- Ms Ghuznavi is a pioneer of not only the natural dye program but also of holding onto our traditional roots. As we talked with the woman with a classy demeanor, we learn about the many advantages of natural dye. The veteran also talks about what is being done to raise awareness of its practicality.

The extensive use of chemical alternatives to natural dyes causes an alarming harm to our environment. The contaminated chemical dyes poisoning our rivers. In voicing and pushing for a larger market for natural dyes, Ruby Ghuznavi is heading towards a more environment-friendly approach to dyeing and designing fabrics.

When we think of natural dyes, we usually think of the most primitive forms of enriching our fabrics with color, the processes that our early ancestors used and passed down to their sons. One widely circulated misconception about natural dyes is that they are only found in earthly and dull tones; but in reality, there are as many and more than thirty different shades. Not only are there so many colors, but they are colorfast. As the market for the natural dye grows, you can see for yourself how blues, reds, and greens can also be manufactured by a little bit of ingenious mixing and experimenting. Interestingly, in a recent exhibition a burnt orangeish color has been introduced. In the last year or so research of a new color, range has been taking place and flourishing.

Ms Ghuznavi started with the project of reviving the use of natural dyes in 1982. At that time her two goals were to renew the traditional aspect and to raise awareness of its ecological benefits.' Says Ruby. 'In the pursuit of these two goals, Aranya was born in 1990.' It started as a research and development project, but grew up to make a big name for itself in the contemporary fashion scene in Dhaka. Having invested her own money into Aranya, she 'put her money where her mouth is.' Ms Ghuznavi ploughed through more than two decades of overlooking the operation.

Although advances have certainly been made in the market, it remains a niche one. This is because the quality of the merchandise cannot be maintained through mass production on the larger scales; it is not possible to monitor and supervise each step of the dyeing to ensure that the product will always be up to the mark and without any glitches. Perhaps this is the sole concern causing larger manufacturers of our country that can afford to use natural dyes, to refrain from doing so. The market is mostly labor and so brings about concerns about the cost of maintaining workers, satisfying their work ethics, training them to further cement their skills, and establishing a level of quality.

Ms Ghuznavi laments that more retail outlets are not promoting the culture of natural dyes. 'It is regrettable that more giants of the apparel industry are not taking up the use of natural dyes. After all, Aranya has proved that it can be done and that it is possible to make just as much of a profit using these dyes.'

The potential of natural dyes also remains an industry not given much importance by the government, despite it providing jobs for many people from simple backgrounds and educations. Many women have taken part in the revival of natural dyes by imparting their traditional skills in turn for earning for their own families or receiving help from the organization to continue their education. Unemployment could be reduced by staggering numbers if the industry of natural dyes would bloom through the help of more enthusiasts.

The continued and increased use of natural dyes is already thriving in other nations. Ruby Ghuznavi has traveled to countries such as the UK, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka to research and spread awareness on the subject. Although the markets for natural dye are more advanced in most of these countries, Bangladesh has massive potential. 'These days, people no longer look abroad to search for their consumer needs. Our country can provide top class consumer wants in this market. There is no reason for natural dyed designs not to be purchased. In fact there is more demand than production level can keep up with!' states Ms Ghuznavi. It is also difficult to find natural-dyed yarn within the market, but as she says 'Why not ' Buying ready-made natural-dyed yarn would make fashioning designs much easier.'

Ruby Ghuznavi, the founder and Executive Chairman of Aranya Crafts Ltd, has revived natural dyes in Bangladesh to promote the ecological, social and economic benefits of the ancient craft tradition. She has handed over Aranya to the Bengal Foundation and continues to work with the organization to revive natural dyes and promote the craft on a larger scale. Aranya will surge forward thanks to the efforts of those who have devoted themselves to revitalizing this part of Bangladesh’s heritage.