We all love “easy”, “quick”, and “convenient” things in our busy life. We live in a culture that values convenience. Thus, many tools and products are invented. The microwave oven, instant ramen, fast food, plastic bottles, plastic bags, cell phones, and computers are some of the many many items that we heavily depend on. Even our clothes have been changed from expensive, delicate, and difficult to clean material to non-iron, wrinkle free, water/stain resistant materials. How much of the clothing that you own is made from 100% silk, wool, or hemp? Much of our clothing these days are made of rayon, nylon, polyester, or acrylic. Especially if your clothes are from “Fast Fashion” brands, like Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, GAP, Forever 21, and TopShop. After all, we take all of these conveniences for granted without even one thought about how they are achieved.
Fashion is a highly sophisticated, $2.5 trillion global industry. In the United States alone, consumers spent nearly $380 billion on apparel and footwear in 2017. Over 60 percent of global fiber consumption is comprised of petroleum based synthetic fibers. Cotton makes up nearly a quarter of textile consumption, with wool making up about 1 percent, and other natural fibers (hemp, linen, etc) accounting for 5 percent. The remaining 6.6 percent are wood-based cellulose fibers (e.g. rayon).
How many of us are warned that in different phases and processes of making natural and synthetic fabrics, thousands of chemicals are used. This is how chemicals like nonylphenol ethoxylates, phthalates, heavy metals, alkylphenols, formaldehyde, amines, and so on are converted into normal components of our everyday clothing.
I would like to point out some characteristics of very familiar materials.
- Polyester : It is one of the most widely-produced fabrics in the world but will melt in extreme heat, while most natural fibers char. Molten fibers can cause irreversible bodily damage. Polyester carries carcinogens. Researchers concluded that excessive wear of polyester fabrics can generate problems such as skin, lung and heart cancer, among others. Also other research found that polyester underwear lowers sperm counts, atrophies testicles, and decreases sexual desire.
- Nylon: It is made of diamine, dicarboxylic acid and acetic acid. On top of that, Nylon heavily receives chemical treatments using caustic soda, sulfuric acid and formaldehyde during its manufacturing.
- Acrylic: Acrylic fiber fabrics are made from a synthetic polymer called acrylonitrile. The fabrics have dimethylformamide in them, which the CDC says, after interacting directly with skin “can cause liver damage and other adverse health effects.” Also the CDC stated that acrylonitrile causes brain tumors, lung & bowel cancer.
- Rayon: Rayon is made from cellulose derived from plants like trees, bamboo, and even cotton waste. Because rayon fibers are made from tree and plant pulp, don’t be fooled that rayon is anatural fiber. These fibers are heavily processed with extremely toxic chemicals, involving sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, and sulfuric acid. For dyeing, heavy metals and formaldehyde are used.
- Azo Dyes: Azo dyes are very common synthetic dyes used for coloring clothes, leather and textiles. Approximately 4- 5% of Azo dyes can cleave to form compounds known as aromatic amines, which are potentially dangerous to human health because they have been seen to cause bladder and liver cancers.
Moreover, most water or stain resistant finished clothes contain PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). PFAS molecules are very difficult to remove, let alone break down, and these molecules can accumulate over time. That’s why PFAS are known to be called “forever chemicals”. Studies have linked many PFAS chemicals to cancer, hormone disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm, and damage to the immune system.
Do you own gym clothes like Lululemon yoga pants? You are exposed to PFAS because they are usually stain or water resistance and moisture or sweat-wicking. Lab research by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that PFAS skin exposure poses similar health risks as ingesting the chemicals via food or water. Unfortunately, many familiar brand sportswear contain PFAS.
We are exposed to harmful toxins almost 24/7. Even though we changed the diet to clean eating and ditched harsh cleaning products, air fresheners, and personal care products, we are wearing contaminated underwear, sportswear, pants, t-shirts, bras, and pajamas.
Our convenient first consciousness has done enough damage to our own health and environment. It is time to become aware of what your true priorities are. Let’s review our clothes and start slow fashion!