Toxic, tempting fashion

By Sophia Coleman

Too bad Forest Green wasn’t declared the color of the year instead of Tangerine Tango. Perhaps it would inspire brands like Calvin Klein and Zara to come clean about their noxious clothing.

Greenpeace released a major investigative report Nov. 20 that details the hazards of toxic chemicals found in the products of 20 global fashion brands, including the two aforementioned, as well as Victoria’s Secret, Levi’s and Gap. The report revealed the connection between textile manufacturing and the use of toxic chemicals—including azo dyes containing carcinogenic amines—that were found in 89 of the 141 garments tested.

Because many manufacturers of these big brands are located in Mexico and China, they are able to evade the stricter regulations the U.S. implements. While it’s bad enough these chemicals are used in any part of the world, American fashionistas shouldn’t feel any comfort. The toxins remain in the clothing and pollute the waterways with each cycle of laundry.

Many of the brands included in the study fall into the “fast fashion” category, which means they manufacture clothing that is cheaply made and frequently bought. Because the garments quickly lose their novelty, most of the clothes end up spending decades in a landfill. Approximately 13.1 tons of textiles produced in 2010 made up 5.3 percent of U.S. municipal waste, according to the report. Just imagine all of the deadly chemicals that are seeping into our environment because of our insatiable need for the latest trends.

There wasn’t always this sick cycle of creation and consumption. In “100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending,” a 2006 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was found that in the 1950s the average U.S. family spent 11.5 percent of its annual income on clothing. Fast-forward to the latest data compiled in 2003, which shows that the average family spent only 4.2 percent on clothing. Yet, because the fashion retail cycle has sped up, there are now more garments than ever crammed into stores and consumers’ wardrobes, which ultimately leads to more pollution.

I’m sure my mom and aunt would be happy to tell you about my grandma sewing their clothing, and when shopping excursions did occur, few items were purchased because they were expensive. I’ve been spoiled by dozens of shopping marathons financed by both of them. And though I have held on to a handful of special pieces, most of my garments from years past are probably rotting alongside diapers and plastic bottles.

The only way to rid the world of toxic fashion is to demand transparency from these brands. Greenpeace started the Detox Campaign in July 2011 to clean up major clothing brands by 2020, and seven international brands are currently signed on, including H&M, Nike and Puma. Consumers should refrain from shopping at uncomitted brands listed in the Greenpeace report. That, or join a nudist colony.