When Consumers Against Toxic Apparel (CATA) was featured on my local TV station a while ago, I stood up and took notice. Toxins in clothing? Given that everything else in the environment contains toxins, I guess I should not have been so surprised.
Up until then, my efforts to fit my wardrobe into a healthful and environmentally conscious lifestyle was limited to favoring washable clothes – natural and organic when possible, or at least made with some natural fibers. I have no small children so flame retardants did not appear to apply to me (I was wrong there). While CATA speaks also to the broader issues of environmental pollution and sustainability, this article focuses on the chemicals found in clothing, some of their possible effects, and suggestions to not only minimize your exposure but cast your consumer vote for change.
Where Toxins Lurk
As I began to investigate, to my mounting surprise, I learned that workout clothing has the potential to do more harm than other apparel. Greenpeace drew attention to this in a 2014 study. Toxicity is due not only to the chemicals used during manufacturing and shipping, but also to the hot and sweaty workout environment in which these clothes are worn: an environment very conducive to the chemicals being absorbed by the skin.
The Greenpeace study lists some of the toxic chemicals in major brand workout clothes:
Phthalates (cancer, obesity) – used in screen printing
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) – break down very slowly in the environment
Dimethylformamide (DMF) (nausea, diarrhea – CDC website cautions that it can be absorbed by the skin)
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)and nonylphenols (NPs) (cancer, developmental abnormalities in fetus)
Nano silver (lung inflammation and health problems).
You might recognize some of these chemicals as the same ones found in household cleaning and personal care products listed in our Toxin Awareness Kit.
Aside from workout clothing, the qualities in clothing we have come to appreciate come with a price. Wrinkle-free fabric, stain resistance and wicking in clothing are treated with different chemicals to make them so.
Awareness of the Toxins We Wear
But how is the average consumer supposed to know what is safe? There is no government overview or regulation of the chemicals used in the manufacturing of clothing. One must look elsewhere for information. There are organizations trying to make a difference. One of them is Bluesign Technologies. Bluesign is a company founded in Switzerland whose goal is to promote a standard of clothing that is non-toxic to the wearer, environmentally friendly, and fair to workers. Companies that partner with Bluesign agree to work toward these standards and provide the transparency to verify their commitment. The Bluesign emblem on a fabric certifies that it has met these high standards.
Change is in the Wind, Albeit Just a Slight Breeze
Admittedly the non-toxic clothing segment is very small. The good news is that change is happening on several fronts. Organizations such as Greenpeace are not only bringing to light the issue of toxins in clothing but also creating momentum for companies to work toward removing them. A 2016 Greenpeace update reveals that Adidas, Nike, and Puma promised to go toxin-free by 2020. After pressure from models, bloggers, and fashionistas, 70 resistant retailers, fashion brands and suppliers, accounting for 15% of the global textile market, have promised to remove toxic chemicals from their products.1 You can visit the Greenpeace website to see their evaluation of which companies are forging ahead of schedule and those falling behind.
Change Comes Down to the Consumer
Consumers Against Toxic Apparel is a small, Jacksonville-based organization whose stated mission is to connect the organic and sustainable fashion industries and keep CATA members abreast of new information and provide them with discounts on clean clothing. It was a small segment on local TV that opened my eyes to the significant impact of chemicals used in clothing.
The organic and sustainable fashion industry needs more consumer interest to grow. When you shop online, search out organic and sustainable choices first. Some major brands carry organic and sustainable options.
Tips to Minimize Toxic Exposure
Look for the Bluesign emblem, sometimes manufacturers list some part of a garment, say a lining, that qualifies for the classification. Every little bit helps. Keyword searches for organic and sustainable fabrics can lead you to companies dedicated to this kind of fashion or the segments of larger companies or name brands that offer some choices.
Wash new clothing before you wear it. I understand the pleasure of wearing a brand-new outfit can be exquisite; however, some toxic residues can be eliminated. Sometimes new clothes even have a chemical smell that is distinct, have you noticed?
Avoid screen printed clothes, phthalates as usually used as part of the printing process.
As much as possible, buy clothes that can be washed over those that need to be dry-cleaned.
Use eco-friendly laundry detergents.
Awareness is Everything and Every Bit Helps
I look at my clothing purchases in a new light; it is impossible to go back to the simple standard I used before watching that TV segment. There are healthier clothing alternatives I can choose, at least some of the time, for now. I hope this article will help further the goal toward more fashion choices that are safer for people and the planet.
And finally, chemically treated clothing is just one more reason why IonCleanse detox sessions are an integral part of a healthful lifestyle.
1. Brodde, Kirsten, “Which Fashion Brands Are Going Toxic-Free,” Greenpeace, 5 July 2016, Nature, https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/7327/which-fashion-brands-are-going-toxic-free