How are we doing today when it comes to our health and fashion?
In 1881, the Rational Dress Society challenged the fashion industry of its day. The Society protested against a dress that “either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure health.” Seeking to do away with constricting and deforming garments such as corsets, the Society sought to ensure each person would be “dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully.”
Our modern clothing industry is a $7 trillion enterprise utilizing more than 8,000 synthetic chemicals. Are we sacrificing our health in the name of fashion yet again?
The environmental watchdog group Greenpeace International released Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up in 2012. After purchasing 141 items of clothing from 29 countries, Greenpeace noted the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).
All of the brands included in this study had one or more products that contained detectable levels of NPEs.
Clothing manufacturers like H& M, The Limited, and Levi Strauss have promised to eliminate these chemicals in response to the Greenpeace report.
Where does this leave us when it comes to our clothing purchases? Many organizations are encouraging a return to natural fabrics.
In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly initiated the International Year of Natural Fibres. Highlighting the health benefits of natural textiles, the initiative emphasized the breathability of non-synthetic fabrics.
Natural fiber textiles absorb perspiration and release it into the air, a process called “wicking” that creates natural ventilation. Because of their more compact molecular structure, synthetic fibres cannot capture air and “breathe” in the same way.
How to Choose Safe and Sustainable Clothing
When looking at your wardrobe, note that only three items are required on labels: fiber content, country of origin, and manufacturer or dealer. Specific chemicals such as formaldehyde, triclosan, and fire retardants need not be disclosed.
Factory conditions are not mentioned either. Are the workers being treated fairly? The Fair Trade Certified Apparel program is the first of its kind offering consumers an opportunity to consider the social, economic, and environmental impact of their shopping decisions.
The non-profit group Fashion Revolution is committed to raising awareness about the unfair treatment of fashion industry workers,
On 24th April each year, Fashion Revolution will bring everyone in the fashion value chain together and help to raise awareness of the true cost of fashion, show the world that change is possible, and celebrate all those involved in creating a more sustainable future.
Learn more about Fashion Revolution and their #whomademyclothes campaign here.
Which Fabrics are Natural?
The following chart may be helpful when reading clothing labels. (Note: linen is derived from flax and is, therefore, an excellent natural option.)
The above chart will also help when trying to reduce static cling. See All Natural Fabric Softener Solutions.
(I am careful to buy organic bras as it relates to cancer avoidance. See more in my post 8 Ways I Am Minimizing My Breast Cancer Risk.)
When trying to avoid synthetic chemicals, be aware that the following types of clothing indicate a higher use of chemicals such as formaldehyde, triclosan, and nanoparticles:
- Easy Care
Manufacturers concerned with fashion and health
Dozens of manufacturers now produce safe, organic, natural clothing. A few of them are listed below.
Adults and Children
Groups and Organizations that Promote Safe Clothing
I have slowly been transitioning away from synthetic clothing and am enjoying a simpler wardrobe. The natural fabrics last longer and while I may pay more in the short run, I’m spending less in the long run. What’s more, I enjoy supporting companies that ensure their workers are treated fairly.
What about you? Have you changed the way you shop for clothes?