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Guntaash Sahani


While the variety of patterns and shades for clothes and housewares in the marketplace leave consumers spoiled for choice, those colors come at a high cost, explains Guntaash Sahani '21: synthetic dyes used for textiles tend to be toxic, causing dangerous chemicals to accumulate in bodies of water.

“Most dyes never fully degrade,” she said. “And those that do end up producing harmful substances.”

Passionate about sustainability, Sahani began pursuing organic alternatives back in high school. As a student in New Delhi she asked professionals in India’s textile industry why they weren’t using cleaner, plant-based dyes. The big problem, they told her, was a lack of reliable information about precisely formulating different colors.

That was all she needed to hear: Sahani began flying east on weekends to the village of Basain, in a region renowned for carpetmaking. The mountainous area in the state of Uttar Pradesh grows a variety of vegetables and other natural ingredients traditionally used in coloring textiles. For three years, Sahani worked with local experts and conducted experiments to compile an “instruction manual” detailing the methods, steps, and ingredients for concocting organic dyes with desired hues. In New York, she has gone on to hone recipes for some 150 shades spanning seven major colors.

“I’m currently working on accounting for external factors like weather and humidity to make my formulae more comprehensive,” said Sahani, who also trained at one of India’s largest disperse dye companies.

The manual has already earned recognition from the government of India and the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology. In the long run, Sahani believes the data she is collecting and sharing has the potential to transform the textile industry and make communities like Basain better places to live.

At Columbia Engineering, her interest in advancing human health continues. As a biomedical engineering major, Sahani has an eye on attending medical school, but first plans to spend time in biotech continuing to learn “how to make the most tangible impact on the world.”

“My aim is saving lives,” she said. “Not only through medical practice by also by innovating new technologies to help patients that are currently incurable.”

In the meantime, Sahani is still working on sustainably-derived dyes and thinking about how to make them more commonplace, even as she navigates classes, explores internships, and volunteers on campus and in Harlem.

“Eventually, through more research and experimentation, I hope to devise an all-encompassing algorithm that will be applicable for every shade possible,” she said. “I'm optimistic that one day there will be enough information to eliminate the inconvenience and cost barrier of using organic dyes.”

Student Spotlight

My aim is saving lives. Not only through medical practice by also by innovating new technologies to help patients that are currently incurable.

Guntaash Sahani