How it all started

1. Pre shrinkage without formaldehyde

In 1985, Birthe Jensen, our former dye master and valued colleague for more than 40 years, was diagnosed with an allergy of formaldehyde.

Back in the ‘80’s it was common practice to use formaldehyde in textile production. Formaldehyde was used - and is still used by some companies - because of its fabric shrinking properties and the fact that it can help create more colourfast fabrics. But today we know that formaldehyde is a toxic chemical that can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions. In high doses, formaldehyde can even cause cancer.

Because Birthe was diagnosed with formaldehyde allergy, the former owner of the dyehouse was in the process of inventing a machine that could preshrink garments with air, sort of like a big tumble dryer. He succeeded, and for the first time in history, it was now possible to industrially preshrink garments with air. The invention of this machine and the ones that followed laid the groundwork for the Santex machine that we today use at the dyehouse to preshrink all our garments. This means that we do not use formaldehyde or any other harmful chemicals because we have a preshrinking process that is based 100 % on air.

2. Dying without harmful chemicals and heavy metals

With the invention of the early versions of the Santex machine, we were able to preshrink with air, hence one of the challenges with formaldehyde was solved. However, when it came to dyes and colouring, there was still some important work to be done.

A range of dyes are used when dying fabrics. Some of them contain heavy metals because metals can increase the level of colourfastness and create more clear, vivid colours. However, the use of heavy metals is problematic because they can cause allergy, cancer, and are highly toxic to the aquatic environment.

In 1991, Villy H. Bertelsen - 3rd generation and former CEO of DILLING - purchased the dyehouse. This was an unusual acquisition - even for its time. Entering the dyeing industry as a producer of textiles was difficult and many of the dyehouses in Denmark and Europe were closing as production moved East.

For 25+ years, the dyehouse was run at an annual deficit. This is why we jokingly refer to the dyehouse as Villy’s expensive hobby. It was a passion of his – one that cost a lot of money to run and operate. But to Villy it was about much more than the money. It was about knowing how the products were made and which chemicals were used during the process.

After taking over the dyehouse, Villy soon experienced that running it was a complex task. The dyehouse was supervised by Vejle Country through meticulous tests, requiring daily samples from the wastewater to ensure compliance with wastewater regulations. Moreover, if anything went wrong at a local governmental wastewater treatment plant, it was Villy’s responsibility to prove that the chemicals did not come from our dyehouse.

The daily samples from our wastewater showed that the water contained a higher number of heavy metals (chrome, copper, and nickel) than accepted. It was not only at our dyehouse - many dyehouses in Denmark were burdening the environment with the emission of too many heavy metals. But it was not an excuse for Villy. He decided that he did not want to take part in polluting the environment.

Villy therefore wanted to find a way to avoid these harmful chemicals and heavy metal in the dying process. One by one, Birthe Jensen and Villy searched for, tested, and consequently replaced harmful dyes with pure ones. It was an extremely expensive and tedious process, but in 2001, the culmination of many years of hard work paid off. The production process was now clean, and DILLING received the EU Ecolabel certification. In 2010, we were certified with the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, which is one of the most recognized environmental certifications because of its strict requirements to chemicals. Today, our dyes are completely free from harmful chemicals and heavy metals.

Since we do not use heavy metals at the dyehouse, we are not able to offer certain colours, like some light blue and green nuances and some turquoise colours. That, however, is a choice we feel absolutely confident about. To us, the health and environmental considerations far outweigh the few colours in the colour palette that are not available to us.

3. Enhancing the quality of our products

With the new innovative process of preshrinking garments with air and dying without harmful chemicals and heavy metals in place, the focus now turned to the quality of our products.

As our former dye master, Birthe Jensen has witnessed first-hand and taken part of the progression towards becoming an eco-friendlier dyehouse. But Birthe has also played a central role in the process of significantly enhancing the quality of our products.

To keep the dyehouse afloat, she and Villy knew they would have to produce a quality like no other. So, in 1994, they joined forces with the leading global biotech company, Novozymes. Novozymes reached out to Villy and Birthe because they had developed a new type of enzyme treatment called BioPolish. The treatment had the unique ability to soften cotton and minimise excess pilling.

Novozymes had reached out to several other dyehouses before getting in contact with DILLING. However, none of the other dyehouses were interested in using this enzyme treatment because it required a doubling in treatment time. You have probably heard the phrase “time is money” - and in any production flow, that saying is very true. Besides costs and production time, the other dyehouses did not see an instant benefit from using the enzyme treatment because, at a glance, there were no significant changes to be seen when looking at the product. The real difference was only experienced after 100 washes. Here, the cotton products that were given a BioPolish treatment were still completely white, soft, and without pilling as if they were new.

Since 1994, we have treated our cotton products with BioPolish, a 100 % environmentally neutral enzyme treatment. As it already comes from nature, it can also end up in nature without problems once it has served its purpose.

In 1996, Birthe read in a specialist journal from Novozymes that they now had developed an enzyme that could remove the itchy hairs from the wool. Once again, Novozymes came to the dyehouse to talk about enzyme treatment for wool that they had developed, but not yet tested. The next year from here went with testing and adapting the enzymes to DILLING’s production. It was a time-consuming and difficult process because the smallest adjustments in the recipe would destroy the wool and it took many hours, enzymes, and kilos of wool before the recipe for the enzyme treatment was in place.

A normal treatment process of wool takes approximately eight hours. But with adding the enzyme treatment to remove the itchy hairs, it now took 16 hours to treat a batch of wool. This of course had a big effect on the production costs.

Back then, and still today, we find it crucial to work with raw and pure wool. Many companies wrap their wool in Superwash (linking to article about No Superwash treatment), a chlorine treatment that is used to improve the wool’s washing abilities, but actually ends up leaving chlorine (AOX) to be discharged with the wastewater and ruins the natural properties of the wool. With our unique 16-hour long treatment, we remove the itchy hairs whilst keeping the amazing and natural properties of the wool. To read more about these properties, click here (linking to The natural properties of merino wool).

You have probably heard the phrase “time is money” - and in any production flow, that saying is very true.

Clean products from DILLING

The three important events that have shaped the way we work with the treatment of our products today are the ability to preshrink garments with air instead of formaldehyde. Moreover, the hard and costly decision to replace harmful dyes and heavy metals with pure and clean ones. Finally, the development of an enzyme treatment for cotton to improve the quality, making the products softer without pilling and the enzyme treatment for wool, which removes the itchy hairs of the wool and keeps the natural properties of the wool intact.

This essentially means that when you buy a product from DILLING, you always get clean, non-toxic products that are soft to the touch and made from materials with their amazing natural properties intact.

10% discount on your first order

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DILLING is a Danish family enterprise with a long tradition of producing organic wool products that will keep you warm. Today, we make organic clothing in organic merino wool and cotton for the whole family with the fourth generation, Morten Dilling, at the helm. Our organic wool wear sells at favourable prices because you are buying directly from the manufacturer.

You’ll find soft, breathable, and allergy-friendly clothing in natural materials on our website, produced without harmful chemicals and within Europe's borders under good working conditions.

Most of our products are certified with the Nordic Swan Ecolabel and gently dyed at DILLING's own dyehouse in Denmark.

You'll find DILLING's products in the following countries: