When was the last time you bought clothes? Possibly just this month?
New styles are beckoning! When they have gone out of style, you likely throw them away and replenish your closet again. It is so easy to do. That’s fast fashion; clothing rapidly produced to keep up with new trends. This cycle of fast fashion allows clothes to be accessible quickly, abundantly, and inexpensively.
Yet, our clothing consumerism is posing threats to both our health and the environment. Within this post, we focus on two facets of the fashion industry so you can start to make mindful choices.
The chemicals used in the production of clothes is no joke.
Yes, buying cheap clothes can be the perfect way to look fashionable on a budget, but the manufacturing process isn’t as pretty as you may think. Here are two of the ways that our clothing purchases impact our health:
Clothing labeled as wrinkle-free, waterproof and stain-resistant may also be laden with harmful chemicals that seep into our skin when worn, or into the environment when the clothing is manufactured. Chemicals such as PFAS, phthalates and formaldehyde are used to create clothing benefits to the consumers - no stains, no wrinkles, etc, - but have no business interacting with our health. To learn more about these chemicals in depth, click here.
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs are “nonionic surfactants”) are chemicals used as industrial detergents. NPEs are an irritant to skin and have more importantly been shown to cause birth defects in rats. You can take a deeper dive about the group of chemicals here at Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.
All of these are chemicals of harm that we want to avoid. Unfortunately you aren't going to find any of those chemicals listed on the tag of clothing as you shop. Understanding and awareness of the industry is the first step. We also need to understand the implications on the environment.
It's Not Just Us, It's the Planet, Too.
Not only can toxins in our clothing interact with our health directly, they are also endangering the environment. With every person tossing an average of 80 pounds of clothes annually, the size of landfills expand significantly. Most clothing produced with different fabric-altering chemicals may preserve it from decomposing. As the clothes slowly decompose, landfills release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas twenty times stronger than carbon dioxide.
The cheaper the quality, the longer it will take to leave our planet. For example, polyester, made from petroleum, takes up to 200 years to decompose. Polyester is even more harmful when burned because it releases toxins into the air and water, so there’s no truly safe way to dispose of polyester.
Similarly, the materials used in fast fashions have negative effects on waterways and their ecosystems. A study from the University of California explains that a synthetic jacket will shed around 1.7 grams of microfibers every wash. Running through the waterways, this toxic material reaches our oceans filled with food we eat and the water we drink.
So, what can we do?
Rising ChangeMaker, Cam Bourne
We interviewed Cam Bourne, a rising freshman at Pratt Institute in New York. Cam’s interest in fashion started at a young age as well as his concerns about the environment, evolving as he worked as a personal shopper in Boston. Cam hopes to use his depth knowledge and resolve to create a sustainable clothing line one day, something that is much needed in our world.
While discussing fast fashion in depth with Cam, a common frustration became apparent to all of us: a striking absence of options to purchase non toxic clothing. Affordability and availability are lacking. If we can't buy ourselves out of this situation, then what can we do? If there is a lack of options, then where do we turn?
Ultimately, as awareness grows, consumer demand will challenge more mindful brands to the forefront. We are still early in this tipping point.
As new brands do enter the market, the BIG picture is our consumerism. LESS is MORE. It will never be better to buy in the masses that we so love to do in our culture -- this doesn't just apply to clothing but is the heart of so much of our toxic behavior. LESS is MORE always, especially with clothing purchases.
Cam has suggested steps we can take, and tips that don’t break the bank and keep the momentum pushing forward:
- Take advantage of what already exists: Shop thrift stores. (And save money!) Do you have a Saver's near you? Their impact is pretty impressive, and they offer fresh ideas for fundraisers.
- Check the tags on your clothing before purchasing to see the materials. Generally these are a better direction to start: cotton (organic cotton is even better!), wool, and hemp fall in the more affordable category.
- Shop from brands you know are non-toxic. This blogpost calls out brands from around the world. Do you recognize any? The comment section offers even more brands! We are getting closer as even Target now carries organic GOTS certified sheets and bedding.
- Buy staple pieces and style them in new ways to keep things interesting.
- Always wash your clothes before wearing!
- Support those like Cam and rising companies dedicated to making a difference to spread the word to many.
- Donate or resell your clothes, the best way to reduce clothing waste, instead of throwing them away. This tool might help you find the closest place for you to recycle textiles --- including ratty tatty, worn out and stained.
- Host a swap night with a circle of friends for fun. Everyone brings their clothes they are tired of, everyone leaves with fun new items, the rest is donated!
- Watch STINK and recommend to a friend. It's fascinating and one of the best ways to enlighten others!
Where Do We Go From Here?
Focusing on the wellbeing of our planet and the safety of our environment are just two of the threats the industry raises. The topic of fast fashion encompasses MUCH more than we could have included in this post, including ethical issues when it comes to sourcing and labor.
It is just as important to be knowledgeable about the topic and spread the word as it is to make your own changes. This topic is not being addressed the way it should be due to the lack of affordable and accessible places to buy nontoxic clothing, but slowly, change is happening. Making an effort, no matter how big or small, is the first step in creating a more significant change, and it starts with us.
Here are some of the resources we found to be fascinating -- maybe you will, too?
A Note About The Writers:
Together high school senior Erika Mekler, junior Isabella Wehbe, and senior Mary-Grace Colabella created this piece to share our passion about a topic that is seldom mentioned. Each of us are particularly inspired by fast fashion and the dangers of it. It is so important to be conscious of the things we put in and on our bodies, and what it could be doing without us even realizing. All of us want to spread the word and inspire others to make a difference in their lives, hoping one day, we will see the changes we have been working towards.