The textile industry is the number two polluter of watersheds worldwide. Chemicals used in the washing, dyeing, and coating of fabrics, not to mention manmade fabrics themselves are hormone disruptors and break down into carcinogens during washing, drying and wearing. Greenpeace recently released the Dirty Laundry 2 report that documents the toxic chemicals in 15 leading clothing brands, that break down in the environment. You can read the report here.
Research commissioned by Greenpeace International has revealed that clothing and certain fabric-based shoes sold internationally by major clothing brands are manufactured using nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). NPEs — which are used as surfactants in textile production — subsequently break down to form toxic nonylphenol (NP). Nonylphenol is a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that builds up in the food chain, and is hazardous even at very low levels. (GreenPeace)
GreenPeace promotes activism to change the way clothing is manufactured. Striptease demonstrations outside of brand stores in Asia, Europe, and North America garnered international attention for the problem and resulted in two brands making a commitment to change their practices. However, toxic chemicals continue to enter the watersheds with every laundry load. One way to completely get rid of toxic chemicals from your wardrobe is to do what Rebecca Burgess did in the Fibershed project near San Francisco. Rebecca cleaned her closet — completely. She embarked on a one year project to wear only locally grown, designed and produced clothing — from local farms to her own closet. She tossed out every single garment in her closet, except a raincoat that her mother insisted she keep. (That’s what mothers are for!) But she never wore the raincoat. You can read more about the Fibershed project here.
The Fibershed project began with a $10,000 fund raiser and all garments in Rebecca’s closet were paid for out of those funds. Most of us don’t have $10,000 to re-do our wardrobes with. And tossing out our clothes and starting over isn’t feasible for most of us. But we need to get the toxic clothes out of our closets, off our bodies and embrace a kinder, healthier wardrobe, one garment at a time.
What’s toxic? — manmade fibers, rayons, polyesters, and nylons need to get out of our homes. These disrupt our hormones with estrogen mimicking, cancer causing plastics. Get rid of them. Bamboo rayon is not an exception. While bamboo is a renewable wood product, to turn it into fabric it is dissolved in a chemical soup and then exuded and hardened with more chemicals to turn it into a plastic-rayon. The process is toxic. And when you wear bamboo against your skin, our body absorbs the hormone disruptors — your skin is your largest organ. Need I say, never wear a bra made from bamboo fibers or any other rayon.
So now your are left with only natural fibers in your closet — wool, silk, cotton, linen, mohair, angora, raimie or nettle fibers. Some of these will also have toxic chemicals added to the processing. Fabric is coated with wrinkle resistors, formaldehyde, chemical sizings, and chemical dyes. These can cause contact dermatitis and when we wash the fabric before wearing much of these chemicals enter the water supply. What’s left can be absorbed through your skin. Chemicals like petroleum and coal tar based dyes are all carcinogenic. Yikes! This is a good reason to begin to transform your wardrobe and embrace an alternative fashion.
Somehow it seems wrong to toss them out. One way to handle the dilemma is to upcycle the old clothing. Upcycling is frugal, sustainable and avoids adding the garment to the landfill. 12.7 million tons of textile waste end up in landfills in the US each year. A further 2 billion tons of textile waste goes to rag dealers in the developing world.
In order to support our own health, the health of the planet and even our personal economy we need to embrace a new paradigm of fashion. We need to learn to create with our own hands the things we need — to develop a personal self sufficiency. Far from being a burden, we will find joy in our own individuality and creativity, one garment at a time.
First Steps to a kinder, healthier wardrobe
1. Clean out your closet of all clothes made from manmade fibers – anything polyester, rayon, plastic, nylon, acrylic or microfiber.
Pass them on to a consignment shop, thrift store, or sell them on Kijiji if they are still good to wear. Stop buying clothing that isn’t made from natural fibers.
2. Gradually replace important pieces in your wardrobe with locally sourced, nontoxic, sustainable and natural alternatives.
While most of us can’t throw out our entire wardrobe and begin with a fat wallet to build it from scratch, we can embrace a more sustainable fashion by replace one piece at a time, with nontoxic, sustainable, natural and locally sourced alternatives.
3. Upcycle clothing from natural fibers in a way that honours the earth, and makes you feel beautiful.
Fashion is our second skin. It should be more than utilitarian, just keeping us modest and warm. It should also enhance our best features, minimize our perceived flaws, and celebrate our individuality and creativity. One way to achieve these things is to upcycle ready-made clothing into something more beautiful and celebratory.
4. Celebrate your individuality through your clothing.
Don’t just clothe yourself but make a statement with your clothing that honours the beautiful person that you are, and embraces healthy living. Switch to naturally coloured or dyed with natural dyed fabrics. Many brilliant colours can be obtained with natural dyes, not just yellows and browns. Each natural dye molecule is made up of several colours, and so natural dyes tend to look attractive on all complexions.
5. Embellish your clothing with embroidery, beading, needle felting, couching, applique, etc. to make it truly unique and beautiful.
Give your clothing significance rather than just going along with the fashion. By investing our talent and creativity in our clothing — creating slow clothes — we are satisfied with fewer pieces in our wardrobe, because each piece has significance.
6. Upcycle worn out or disfavoured natural fabrics.
Jeans in my household are notorious for wearing out. We work hard on the farm and I have bags and bags of jeans for recycling. They are dyed with chemical indigo and the lint from recycling becomes air born (and its toxic) so wear a dust mask when you undertake to work with it. T-shirts are another cotton item that gets worn out quickly, but its not so linty, when you work with it.
In the next few posts I’ll be sharing some project ideas to help you make the most of your upcycling textile riches.
7. If you have a less than perfect body, embellishing your clothing can accent your best qualities and minimize your flaws.
What’s not to love?
Are you ready to join me on this wardrobe redefining adventure? What’s your biggest wardrobe dilemma. Tell me in one sentence in the comments section and I’ll make sure I address that in a future post.
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Resources for inspiration and ideas:
Also check out my page on Piniterest for more exciting ideas.