Interview 'Color is life!'

Nora Kühner about the World of Colors

Sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, comforting or encouraging, but always associated with emotion—according to color expert Nora Kühner, color  is an experience for all the senses. It’s no wonder that color influences up to 70 percent of our purchasing decisions, making it the largest decision-making factor. There’s no question that color is an essential part of our clothing, but it also impacts the entire textile chain—since the global balance of dyeing is significant. This year's Focus Topic "Colorization – Chemistry is Everywhere" delves into the global impact of colors and looks at better alternatives for sustainable dyeing. But can dyeing ever truly be sustainable?

A conversation about color with Nora Kühner. Designer and trend expert Nora Kühner develops the color chart “PERFORMANCE COLORS by Nora Kühner” for the sports and lifestyle industry twice a year, gives trend lectures, works as a designer, and supports material developments for manufacturers.

How important is color?
Color is life. It is the first way we communicate; it influences our mood and emotions. Moreover, color determines our purchasing decisions—whether we choose a piece of clothing is primarily decided by its color. Colors can evoke strong emotional reactions and affect our perception of products and brands. They can draw us towards certain products or lead us to reject them. Color can help to highlight our natural radiance and influence our mood.

Is the topic of color culturally embedded as well?
A resounding 'YES'—the environment in which we grow up shapes our identity through its color palettes. The culture of a country or region is reflected in its color preferences. In Scandinavia, for example, people often choose natural tones due to a strong connection to nature. In southern regions, on the other hand, cheerful, bold, and vibrant colors dominate, matching the lifestyle of the population.

And how important is color in the development of collections?
Extremely important, although the reality is often different. Color is frequently one of the more neglected components when it comes to developing concepts for a new collection. In the sports segment, the focus is on function, area of use, performance, technical components, as well as design and fit. Only after these aspects is attention given to color. However, especially active women look for appealing design alongside performance components, and thus for harmonious color schemes—something brands often overlook when developing new collections. Ultimately, it is the magical combination of fabric, design, and color that creates the special appeal of clothing and thus fashion.

Has the topic of color changed in recent years?
Absolutely, especially since our lifestyle has changed—we spend much more time in front of screens, whether it's a phone, laptop, or TV. This generally changes our perception of color. I notice this every year during our meetings with the expert team when developing the new color chart. Often there is a desire to make colors brighter because many tones are perceived as too pale in an analog display. Color needs to be intense and stand out; otherwise, our eyes barely register it. We have become so accustomed to the bright, rich color worlds of screens. The daily flood of images has significantly altered our perception of color.

The new Focus Topic of PERFORMANCE DAYS seeks sustainable solutions for dyeing clothes. Is that even possible?
One of the worst environmental offenses in the industry is the conventional, industrial dyeing of our materials. This is primarily due to the very high water consumption and the pollution caused by petroleum-based dyes and chemicals used to fix the colors. However, this will have to change in the future, partly due to new regulations that companies will face in the coming years. In recent years, numerous innovative solutions have been developed but are still underutilized.
For sportswear, which primarily uses polyester, dyeing the polyester pellets before spinning the yarn is a very good and industrially scalable solution. Pigments and polyester pellets are mixed, melted, and then the fiber is extruded. This method significantly reduces both water consumption and the use of chemicals.
There are also sustainable alternatives inspired by nature, either already available or in development. For instance, dyeing with microbes involves using microorganisms that produce pigments through fermentation. Experiments with dyeing using fungi are also very promising. Another approach is the development of dyes from food production waste. There have been industrially scalable solutions available on the market for several years.
However, all these already very sustainable solutions are not yet widely used because they are more expensive than conventional methods.

Does color always need to be seen in the context of materials?
When we talk about sustainability, everything starts with the product itself. Therefore, we should pay more attention to the entire development process. What are the essential points for developing sustainably from the first briefing? If we aim for sustainable product development, how do we approach color selection? Do we sometimes omit a color because sustainable dyeing is not feasible? How sensible is it to produce numerous lab dips just because the ultimate shade hasn't been achieved?
Color should never stand alone; it must always be seen in the context of the materials used in the collection. Every fabric interacts differently with color and can affect how we perceive the color due to its structure and composition. Often, during the dyeing of the first color samples, we find that one color looks great on a particular fabric, while another color completely changes its appearance.

What could be made more sustainable in dyeing?
I would like to address the issue of constant overproduction. Primarily, it is the sheer volume of what we dye that harms the environment—we need to tackle this. We know that a significant portion of produced garments never leaves the production site. This, to me, holds substantial potential for more sustainability in our industry. Every liter of dye that is not produced and used protects the environment.

Or are we all just too spoiled, no longer allowing clothes to age with us because the urge for the new and perfect is too great?
Yes, this is a general problem in our society. We tend to suppress aging processes. Our aesthetic ideal is the smooth and perfect, whether it's facial skin or a running outfit. We've lost the sense of keeping things for longer, taking care of them, and repairing them if necessary. But we need to move past the throwaway society. In terms of color, we can also question the quality standards that have dominated our industrial processes for decades. Does color always have to look the same? Does everything have to be in perfect condition? Isn’t there a charm in a product aging just like we do?

Through my work with students, I constantly see very exciting, creative attempts using natural dyes and sunlight for dyeing. These are, of course—at least for now—not industrially scalable methods, but I like the approach: color should also be allowed to change.

SAVE THE DATE: During the PERFORMANCE DAYS on October 23 and 24, 2024, in Munich, Nora Kühner will inform about the color trends for the summer 2026 and winter 2027 seasons in the Expert Talks.

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Exhibitor List March 2024