MADE SAFE invites you to participate in our 2020 New Year’s Revolution – a series of monthly challenges to swap toxic household products for safer alternatives. So far, we’ve tackled cleaning products, hand soaps, and hand sanitizers. This month – we’re talking clothing.
Clothing. Needless to say, it’s a huge part of our lives – it’s part of how we express ourselves and contributes to the way in which the world sees us. Not to mention it can have huge effects on the environment. For something that significant, we think it’s worthwhile to examine the story of our clothes – both what’s on that tag and beyond.
What’s in Clothing: The Story the Tag Tells Us
Take a peek at some of your favorite items of clothing. On the tag, in addition to care instructions, you’ll typically find a disclosure of the fabrics within the garment. What are you most likely to see? Synthetic fibers.
Synthetic fibers include: polyester (also known as PET), nylon, acrylic, rayon, spandex, and more. They are derived from fossil fuels, and some are essentially plastic. This means that when they end up in the landfill – and they inevitably will – they won’t break down. Some synthetic textiles, like polyester, can use harmful substances in their manufacturing process which can be detected in the fabric after production. Some harmful substances can even migrate to saliva and sweat.
Natural textiles like hemp, cotton, linen, silk and wool are better options. From a biodegradability standpoint, natural textiles have a leg up on synthetic textiles as they are capable of breaking down. However, if they are not organic or certified by a reputable organization, they can also use toxic pesticides during growing or toxic substances during production. Toxic substances in clothing can end up in our environment during manufacturing and dyeing, as a result of run-off during crop growth and harvest, and from washing off residues at home in the laundry.
Beyond the Tag
As an organization concerned not only about human health, but also the health of our whole ecosystem, the concerns with clothing go beyond the tag. That’s because numerous consequences of conventional fashion aren’t listed next to the fabric content and care instructions. We’re talking contributions to plastic pollution and climate change, harmful clothing treatments and processes, and massive human rights violations. Here’s what you need to know:
Fast fashion: Fast fashion items are typically trendy pieces that tend to be cheaply, unethically, and unsustainably produced on a massive scale. The industry has been associated with pollution, massive human rights violations, unethically low wages for workers, and poor quality pieces destined for a landfill. The apparel industry also uses huge amounts of energy and releases 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, therefore contributing to climate change.
Microfibers: Some synthetic fibers breakdown into microfibers. Microfibers are tiny fibers that are released from clothing when washed. From your washing machine or sink they head down the drain into water sources. Microfibers contribute to plastic pollution because they don’t biodegrade in the environment, contributing to contamination of oceans and bodies of water – including drinking water – and food. Microfibers are also harmful to aquatic life.
PFAS: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short, are a group of thousands of substances typically used for waterproofing and stain resistance in clothing. Various PFAS have been associated with numerous harmful effects including reproductive and developmental impacts, liver and kidney damage, and contribution to the development of cancer.
Silver Nanomaterials: Nanoparticle silver is typically used as an antimicrobial, most commonly found in workout gear (and period panties!). It has been linked to toxicity to human and animal cells as well as aquatic ecosystems.
Our April Challenge: Swap Your Apparel Mindset
In light of conventional clothing’s impact on human health and wellbeing, as well as the environment, let’s look more closely at our swap for this month.
After reading the information we laid out about fashion’s potential impact, you may be expecting us to suggest a complete overhaul of your entire wardrobe. Not so! Not only is this impractical and costly, but it would simply contribute to even more waste. In fact, the most sustainable wardrobe is the one you already have. This month’s swap is a little different because, while we are inviting you to swap products for safer ones where you can, what we’re primarily challenging you to swap is your mindset.
We are bombarded daily by advertisements with messages that what we have and who we are aren’t enough and that we need more: we need more clothing in order to stay on top of the newest trends and to feel like we fit in. No wonder so many of us end up one-click shopping, choosing trendy fast fashion pieces, and making impulse buys.
Instead, we invite you to consider your assumptions about fashion. Some questions to consider:
- Does more clothing equate to being more fashionable?
- What if a highly-curated closet that screamed completely of you was actually what having style was about?
- What would it feel like to have identified a sense of personal style, instead of just chasing trends?
- When you buy new clothing, are you buying because you truly need something? If not, why are you buying?
- What are the ways in which you can support sustainable fashion to move away from fast fashion? Thrifting? Purchasing from sustainable fashion brands? Simply buying fewer items?
- How can you practice contentment with what you already have?
- What are your favorite things and why? How can knowing what you love inform how you purchase new clothing?
- How can you get creative with what you already have?
- Will buying more truly make you feel good?
Understanding our own personal motivations and blind spots can help us avoid the pitfalls of advertising and fast fashion. By investigating some of our underlying assumptions about fashion and style, we are taking a huge step towards a more sustainable closet. Because really, awareness is always the first step.
MADE SAFE’s Approachable Guide to Sustainable Fashion
Once you’ve swapped your mindset and are ready to take on more, read our Approachable Guide to Sustainable Fashion. It’s a how-to with no pretense of perfection and no philosophical wardrobe dogma to subscribe to because we know that this is a journey and everyone has to find the approach that feels right for them.
Instead, you’ll find detailed, yet flexible steps to get you started, including information on what to look for when considering an item, how to curate your closet to develop your personal style, shopping tips, MADE SAFE® certified clothing and other safer options.
Sustainable Shopping Guide
MADE SAFE® Certified Clothing
Coyuchi: Organic cotton clothing, sleepwear, robes, and leisure wear
Other Safer Solutions*
For other brands offering safer solutions, read our Approachable Guide to Sustainable Fashion.