The Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion
July 20, 2023
Recently we listened to a fascinating interview on Fresh Air with journalist Alden Wicker, who shared her investigative findings about the chemicals used to treat fabric, and the huge impact they can have on our health.
Wicker first began digging into the topic a few years ago investigating why a uniform change with several major airlines led to some flight attendants reporting skin rashes and inflammatory diseases, among other afflictions. The culprit turned out to be the toxic chemicals used to treat the new uniform's fabric.
The airlines had swapped out traditional wool suiting with synthetic blends, which necessitated disperse dyes (known skin-sensitizers), and other chemicals designed to repel stains and ensure the fabric was fire-retardant. Wicker found that many of these chemicals were known to be toxic, causing everything from reproductive and thyroid issues to birth defects.
In response to the concerns being raised about the sick flight attendants, most airlines pushed back against the claims, stating that it was an extremely small percentage having the reaction. However, when widening the scope beyond the case of these airlines, looking instead at the fashion industry as a whole (and fast fashion in particular), the weight of this problem becomes much clearer.
Over the course of her investigation, Wicker performed testing on garments from a variety of brands with the goal of identifying whether or not there were toxic chemicals present. She cautioned however, that for anyone concerned about such chemicals in their own clothing, testing wasn't a good solution. Not only because of the exorbitant price (this process for five garments came in at $10K), but many commercial labs will only perform testing for brands & not individuals.
Trends can change in the blink of an eye, but the laws and regulations driving the fashion industry tend to move quite slowly. So what's the solution?
Try to avoid synthetic fibers whenever possible.
Although synthetic fabrics tend to be treated with toxic chemicals more often, sticking with cotton and other natural fibers isn't a comprehensive solution. Oftentimes they're treated with performance chemicals, pesticides, or other contaminants.
Stay away from fast fashion brands like Shein.
Wicker reported that tests performed on clothing manufactured by Shein was shown to have extremely high levels of lead and phthalates, even surpassing California's limit for such substances. They're able to skirt the laws by shipping directly from China, Canada, or Mexico, and keeping the shipments under $800, bypassing the law that would otherwise require packages to undergo a safety check.
Support the Fashion Act
Aimed at increasing awareness and visibility within the industry, this law would require fashion brands to share their suppliers and the environmental impact of their manufacturing process. This change would go a long way in providing some much needed transparency for consumers, and accountability from brands.
Look for third-party labels
Labels such as Bluesign, Oeko-Tex, and GOTS organic partner with suppliers and factories to ensure various standards are being met. For example, our collection of Deco Favorites are Fair Trade Certified, Oeko-Tex, GOTS certified, and produced in a wind mill powered facility. The Supima tees in this collection are some of our favorites. They're incredibly soft, truly made of the absolute best quality materials possible.