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Ways Clothing Became Toxic

At some point along the way, clothing became toxic, and we aren't just referring to the fashion industry.

By Lorna VausePublished 6 years ago 5 min read

Before we begin talking about all the ways clothing became toxic over the years, we have to define toxicity as it applies to this discussion. Something can be toxic by virtue of being unhealthy. It doesn't just apply to chemicals and poisons, although they certainly count. In addition to deficient practices in the textile industries, clothing has become toxic due to uncomfortable fits, potentially hazardous fabrics, and a desire to produce clothes at bottom-of-the-barrel costs. Clothing is toxic to the people who make it, the people who wear it, and the people who live around factories. First, you need to pinpoint the causes; then you have to work on finding safer alternatives with which to stock your wardrobe.

To Dye For

Image via Becca McHaffie/Unsplash

One of the primary reasons that clothing became toxic is due to the dyes and other chemicals used to preserve them. That black skirt you love so much may contain p-Phenylenediamine, for example, and your favorite red dress could contain harmful toxins, too. Although these chemicals operate under the guise of creating higher-quality clothes with brighter colors, the idea that your cute top might last a little longer doesn't stack up against the potential side effects. Chemical dyes can result in skin irritation, but they can also cause anaphylactic shock, and may even result in cancer. Try to keep an eye out for clothing items and manufacturers who refuse to use toxic substances. Stick to natural materials, such as organic cotton, and toxic-free clothing companies, such as Eileen Fisher.

Wrinkle-Free Follies

Hazardous chemicals are almost solely responsible for why clothing became toxic. Even attempts to push positive functions, such as clothes that don't wrinkle, end in disaster. In theory, it's laudable that the garment industry wants to create wrinkle-free, stain-resistant, and fire-retardant clothing. Those traits are helpful. They can potentially save time and lives. In practice, unfortunately, the use of toxins such as formaldehyde just make things worse. No one should pull on a shirt and hope that they're not at risk for skin irritation and respiratory problems.

Breathing Difficulties

Breathing problems are a genuine concern. You can't be too careful with the clothing industry, which has lax standards around the world. Always check the tags on your clothes. Moreover, research the brands and supply chains from which you buy. Informing yourself is often the only way to ensure you're purchasing safe, ethical clothing.

Heavy Hangs the Bag

Image via Tamara Bellis/Unsplash

The subject of handbags is toxic on another level. You still have to worry about chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin, particularly in the dyes used to give your favorite purse its color or design. Veering off into another direction, how heavy is your bag? How large is it? How much stuff do you pile in there? Again, this represents a different kind of toxicity, but women's handbags are dragging them down—literally. A heavy bag, carried for even an hour a day, can result in muscle strain, backaches, and worse. Try to pare down your purse. Don't give into the fashion industry. You know that's likely why women's pants have shallow pockets, if they have pockets at all, right? Without pockets, we need a handbag to carry all of our day-to-day essentials.

The Danger of NPEs

Nonylphenol ethoxylates, or NPEs, is beyond dangerous. Clothing became toxic in large part because the clothing industry embraced NPEs in a bid to disperse dye throughout clothing more evenly. Turns out, it's not worth it. NPEs irritate both the eyes and the skin, and that's a best-case scenario. At worst, the agent can wreak havoc with a person's hormones, disrupt reproductive health, and result in congenital disabilities. Although you can wash out nonylphenol ethoxylate in the laundry, that just sends out the toxins with the gray water, where the agents then degrade and turn into nonylphenols or NPs. At that point, they are a contributing factor in understanding why clothing can increase toxic waste due to their poisonous properties which will harm all manner of aquatic environments, and eventually the ecosystem as a result.

Synthetics Versus Skin

Clothing became toxic to a greater extent with the introduction of synthetic materials and performance materials, such as Lycra. Take a peek at your athletic wear. How much of it promises that it's “moisture-wicking?” It's not. Those clothes contain too much synthetic fiber to do much of anything except smother your skin. All the moisture, sweat, and toxins that leave your body throughout the day have nowhere to go, and your skin has no way to breathe. As a result, you might get a raging headache, you could feel nauseous, or you could develop a rash. What's dangerous, however, is that your skin's inability to breathe can extend to your lungs.

Footwear Horrorshow

Image via Melody Jacob/Unsplash

Shoes can result in toxicity the same way handbags can. High heels are instruments of torture, but even worse, footwear is becoming narrower. Those pointy-toe pumps can not only squeeze your toes together, but they can actually cause callouses and, worse, bunions. Your shoes can negatively impact the very shape of your feet—and again, you also have to consider whether your sneakers, ballet pumps, and wedges use the same dyes and chemicals that caused clothing to become toxic.

Cutbacks in Pursuit of Fashion

Fast fashion is another reason that clothing became toxic. Fast fashion doesn't wait for sustainable materials. It has no patience for organic fabrics. It can't wait for the cotton to grow. It would rather rely on synthetics, such as polyester. That way, it can pump out vast quantities of ready-to-wear items.

Fight the Tight

You can't discount changing times. As fashion trends veered toward tighter, more form-fitting items, clothing became toxic to a greater extent, as well. Not only do tight clothes constrict you, making them uncomfortable and apt to cause chafing and other skin irritations, they also dig into your skin. That can make it even easier to absorb the toxins that find their way into your clothing during the manufacturing process, not even mentioning learning how to shop for clothing when you have body dysmorphia.

Pollution in the Water

Image via Leo Rivas/Unsplash

You only have to look at the clothing and textile manufacturing industries to see the undeniable truth about the clothing industry. Manufacturers and brands tend to open textile factories in developing countries. They say they're boosting the local job market and providing residents with opportunities, but in reality, they're destroying local water sources. The run-off water from dyeing, treating, and washing fabrics has to end up somewhere—usually nearby rivers and lakes, which often double as the local water supply. The water sources near factories end up discolored, bubbly with soap and other chemicals, and toxic to all the creatures who depend on the water.

Clothing became toxic while we weren't looking, but we don't have to allow it to continue. Look for organic cotton, wool, silk, linen, and even hemp if you are exploring the art of thrift shopping. Change your wardrobe, change your aesthetic, and change the future of the clothing industry.


About the Creator

Lorna Vause

Grew up going back and forth between Boston and New York so I have the weirdest accent. Mother of two babies, one of them is furry and meows a lot though

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