At one time, clothes were manufactured with more natural fibers, but due to the Great Depression and the limited supply of cloth, more affordable synthetic fabrics were created. Since then, the demand for synthetic fabrics grew, especially polyester, and advanced along with the current fast-paced lifestyle we all live. Wrinkle-free items and stain resistant fabric saves times on ironing and helps us avoid cleaning up those accidental spills. However, what most may not know is those convenient outfits may be getting you sick, are increasing the toxic load on the planet, and poisoning our waters, which moves right up the food chain from the harsh chemicals to create and treat them. As the world becomes more health and environmental conscious, the fashion industry is fighting back with a new creation of clothing in collaboration with mother nature.
TOP SYNTHETIC FABRICS TO AVOID
Polyester is the most common fabric used in the manufacture of clothing (also used in everything from diapers to carpeting), but also the most dangerous. Even though this fabric is known for its smooth, stretchy, and soft feel, it is created from plastics that are known to cause dermatitis, fungal infections, lower male sperm count and behavioral changes. Polyester requires large amounts of crude oil for production, which releases acid gases that can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases. Polyester is also flammable and usually treated with a flame retardant increasing the toxic effects.
Rayon, often used as a fake silk, is made from recycled wood pulp that is treated with chemicals like ammonia, acetone (chemical used in nail polish remover), and sulfuric acid. These chemicals are used to help the garment survive regular washing and wearing, but they also emit toxins that are dangerous to your health and the environment. For those who regularly wear rayon, it can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, chest and muscle pain, and insomnia, and can eventually lead to Parkinson’s disease and mental insanity. When rayon is produced, chemicals emitted can also lead to water pollution, a decrease in plant growth, and shortening in animal life.
Nylon is another popular textile, mostly used in making socks, but is also one of the worst to the environment. It is manufactured from petroleum (crude oil fossil fuel) mixed in with multiple chemicals, including chloroform, caustic soda (lye), and formaldehyde. Besides releasing harmful toxins into our air during production, nylon has residue toxins that are associated with skin allergies, headaches, dizziness and even spinal pain.
SUSTAINABLE TO ECO
The awareness of harmful health and environmental effects by fashion manufacturing has birthed a new movement called eco-fashion. This growing classification focuses on using only raw materials, grown without the use of pesticides that are bad for the environment, and using recycled textiles or fabrics not harmful to our health. Clothes are designed to be sustainable or durable enough to last longer and to keep up with the desired demand from synthetics. Eco-fashion also incorporates human rights elements; specifically how workers are treated while making the clothes we wear.
The Pacific Northwest is known as one of the most environmental and health conscious regions, so it makes sense that local eco-fashion companies have begun popping up. Outerknown uses recyclable materials found in the ocean for their boarding shorts, and Nau is a brand that makes a range of environmentally-friendly, casual and outdoor clothing using organic cottons, recycled polyesters, and PFC-free waterproof treatments. They also donate 2% of every sale to their non-profit “Partners for Change” that is “creating a lasting positive change for the environment, the global economy, and people in need.”
Last year, Seattle launched its first year of Eco Fashion Week (EFW). EFW expanded from Vancouver, BC where it has been running since 2010. EFW features over 150 designers and stylists from around the globe. Not only does the not-for-profit organization showcase looks on the runway, it also shares and informs others regarding innovative developments in fashion sustiainability. EFW addresses the challenges and opportunities facing the future of this environmental conscious industry. Visit Eco Fashion Week at ecofashion-week.com to keep upto- date on upcoming events and the latest industry trends and news.
Written by Dr. Scott Mindel. View published article in the Ville Magazine 2017 Fall Fashion issue.