Thread Talk with Munir Osman, Founder of MUNI

Celebrating the artistry of hand dyeing with plant extracts.
Photo Courtesy of MUNI

Thread Talk is a series venturing into a designer’s inner workings and thoughts. Today, we have Munir Osman of MUNI, a designer who pioneered the local sustainable fashion scene experimenting with natural dye.

Fashion brands are racing after alternative materials to replace and eventually cut back on the use of synthetic fabrics for the past few years. It’s clear that the fashion world is accelerating its action in the climate crisis, in the hope of being a step closer to being sustainable. While new innovations are most welcome, most locally bred brands in the bountiful land of Southeast Asia are looking inwardly, just like the founder of MUNI is, fully utilising the natural resources we are blessed with and embracing the existing ancient pearls of wisdom like natural dye inherited from artisans of a time before the synthetic innovations superseded the natural and organic way of producing garments.

With expertise in natural dye, MUNI has been growing steadily and gaining a significant spot on the round table of the sustainable fashion scene. Ahead, Munir Osman, founder of MUNI, shared his eight-year experience working with natural dye in Malaysia.

When did you first discover natural dye?

I discovered natural dye during a business trip to Bali in 2015/2016 while working on an architectural project.

Natural dye was, and still is, quite a niche market, what made you decide to start MUNI?

There were a few reasons for that, but mainly for its sustainable value and unique aesthetics. At that time, I was still doing my interior & architecture practice. And I felt that in Malaysia, there wasn’t much appreciation for wabi-sabi aesthetics, which sees beauty in imperfections. And natural dyes were all about embracing those imperfections. And the fact that it’s also a sustainable process made the decision easier.

As a founder of MUNI, where do you find inspiration?

I find that travelling is a great way to get inspired. I like to get lost in a new town or city to discover new things and experience new cultures. Another good source of inspiration is nature. It’s wonderful how a simple rock or leaf can get your creative juices flowing.

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Can you talk us through the process of creating natural dyes?

The process goes through three fundamental steps. The first step is a pre-dyeing process of mordanting to prepare the fabric to take up the dye. Next is the dye process where color is applied to the fabric through different methods such as immersion, tie dye, bleaching etc. And the final step is fixing to make sure the dye stays on the fabric.

founder of muni
Natural dye using tea leaves. Photo courtesy: MUNI

Which plant was the most fun to work with/colour was the most fun to create so far and why?

Recently, my team and I had been experimenting with tea leaves for a custom project and we were blown away by the colours. And the whole studio smelled amazing too!

Quite a number of your designs are made out of cotton and canvas. Is it possibly because natural fabrics are usually better for natural dye compared to synthetic ones? Have you tried working with synthetic fabric?

That’s exactly right but some semi-synthetic fabrics from natural sources such as rayon and bamboo work well with natural dye too. So, our fabric selection really depends on the product design.

Yes, we have tried working with synthetic fabric, but the dye absorption and colour retention are very weak. Plus, synthetic fabrics are mostly non-biodegradable, so we avoid that.

Natural dye is a sustainable practice, has the sustainable mindset infiltrated your daily routine?

Absolutely. For both MUNI and me personally, we’ve adopted composting and recycling on a regular basis.

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What is one assumption or misconception made about natural dye that you want to debunk or clarify?

That the colours are not long-lasting. When made the right way and with proper care, natural dye can last for years. Of course, as with everything natural, the colours are meant to gradually fade. It might not have the same lifespan as chemical-based dyes, but that’s exactly why we need to embrace natural dye.

MUNI has been around for eight years now, and the sustainable fashion scene too has grown over the years. What is the biggest difference you spotted eight years ago when you first started as compared to now, eight years later?

Within eight years, it’s pretty amazing to see more people making conscious choices when buying clothes, but it has also led to a rise of brands “greenwashing” just to jump on the trend and make a quick buck. To build an honest sustainable brand is really tough and will require many years, but as long as we stay true to our core values, I think we’ll be okay.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

As part of our plan to grow globally next year, we’re in the midst of moving to a larger studio built on a 10,000 s.f. land in Jenderam, Selangor. This will help us increase our production capacity and promote MUNI as a Malaysian natural dye brand to new markets internationally.