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What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable and Cheap?

Author: Zhai Yun Tan | Published on: April 10, 2016

When it comes to clothes these days, maybe you should ask: What’s your waste size?

You know you have those clothes sitting in your closet: That shirt you spent less than $10 on because it looked cool for a second, or that skirt you only wore once before it went out of fashion.

Fashion cycles are moving faster than ever. A Quartz article in December revealed how fashion brands like Zara, Gap and Adidas are churning out new styles more frequently, a trend dubbed “fast fashion” by many in the industry. The clothes that are mass-produced also become more affordable, thus attracting consumers to buy more.

“It used to be four seasons in a year; now it may be up to 11 or 15 or more,” says Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.

The top fast fashion retailers grew 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, topping the 6.8 percent of growth of traditional apparel companies, according to financial holding company CIT.

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Cotton Trade: Where Does Your T-Shirt Grow?

Author: Susanna Rustin | Published on: August 9, 2014

Moise Adihou stands by a rough wooden bench beneath a mango tree, surrounded by a small crowd that has gathered to hear his story.

“We were in the field,” he says. “Abraham came to visit after school to tell us he came first in his class. We were happy, so we wanted to celebrate.”

Adihou is a neat, sombre man in his 50s, and what he is describing took place in the village of Gaohungagon in the Zou department of Benin, West Africa. Abraham was 13 and Adihou’s eldest child.

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Fast Fashion Is Creating an Environmental Crisis

Author: Alden Wicker | Published on: September 1, 2016

Visitors who stepped into fashion retailer H&M’s showroom in New York City on April 4, 2016, were confronted by a pile of cast-off clothing reaching to the ceiling. A T.S. Eliot quote stenciled on the wall (“In my end is my beginning”) gave the showroom the air of an art gallery or museum. In the next room, reporters and fashion bloggers sipped wine while studying the half-dozen mannequins wearing bespoke creations pieced together from old jeans, patches of jackets and cut-up blouses.

This cocktail party was to celebrate the launch of H&M’s most recent Conscious Collection. The actress Olivia Wilde, spokeswoman and model for H&M’s forays into sustainable fashion, was there wearing a new dress from the line. But the fast-fashion giant, which has almost 4,000 stores worldwide and earned over $25 billion in sales in 2015, wanted participants to also take notice of its latest initiative: getting customers to recycle their clothes. Or, rather, convincing them to bring in their old clothes (from any brand) and put them in bins in H&M’s stores worldwide. “H&M will recycle them and create new textile fibre, and in return you get vouchers to use at H&M. Everybody wins!” H&M said on its blog.

It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s a gross oversimplification. Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber, according to H&M’s development sustainability manager, Henrik Lampa, who was at the cocktail party answering questions from the press. And despite the impressive amount of marketing dollars the company pumped into World Recycle Week to promote the idea of recycling clothes—including the funding of a music video by M.I.A.—what H&M is doing is nothing special. Its salvaged clothing goes through almost the exact same process as garments donated to, say, Goodwill, or really anywhere else.

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Microfiber Madness: Synthetic Fabrics Harm Wildlife, Poison the Food Supply and Expose You to Toxic Chemicals

Author: Reynard Loki | Published on: July 20, 2016

Doing laundry isn’t something most of us enjoy doing. And now the evidence is clear that the world’s aquatic animals don’t enjoy it either. It turns out that clothes made from synthetic fibers shed tiny plastic microfibers in every wash. This fibrous debris goes from your washing machine, through the municipal sewage system and ends up in all sorts of waterways—marine, coastal and freshwater—where the tiny fibers are ingested by fish, crabs and other aquatic wildlife. In turn, many of these animals end up in our food supply—and on our dinner plates. It seems we are slowly, and literally, eating the shirts off our backs.

A host of recent studies have sounded alarm bells. One frightening conclusion is that these microfibers—a subcategory of microplastics—are even more pervasive in the environment than microbeads, tiny plastic beads common in beauty products that were recently banned in the United States.

One of first researchers to lift the veil on this environmental crisis was ecologist Mark Browne. In 2011, Browne, now a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales in Australia, published a paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that concluded microfibers from synthetic fabrics like nylon and acrylic make up 85 percent of human-made debris across the world’s shorelines. The vast majority of that synthetic waste is being released from clothing when it’s washed in laundry machines.

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Cotton, Cashmere, Chemicals – What Really Goes Into Making Your Clothes?

Author: Elizabeth Grossman | Published on: June 12, 2015

The US Federal Trade Commission has something to say about what you wear.

While not a fashion arbiter and unable to advise on attire for family gatherings, the FTC oversees what appears on the labels inside your clothes. As the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Textile Products Identification Act and related laws, it makes sure clothing is accurately labeled with its fabric content. But it turns out, apart from these laws (and a few — including some state laws — that restrict certain hazardous substances from being used in children’s clothing), there is no overarching US law that regulates or requires listing of materials outside of fabrics that go into producing our clothing.

Why does this matter? Because manufacturers use hundreds of substances to produce clothing that don’t show up on clothing labels. And many of these are hazardous to the environment and to human health.

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The Dirty Secret About Your Clothes

Author: Esha Chhabra | Published: December 30, 2016

In the Colours of Nature dye house, Vijayakumar Varathan is busy prepping a vat of indigo. At 51, he looks frail, with a tanned body made mostly of bones, but he runs to and fro, setting up an open fire where he’ll brew cauldrons of natural colorants made from plants.

He’s worked here for 15 years. But until his early 30s, Varathan mixed chemicals in a conventional clothing factory in the same region of southern India. There he developed a disease that caused layers of his skin to peel off. Even today, it is discolored. “It was pretty bad,” he says, in his fragmented English. “But I didn’t have a choice.”

Conventional textile manufacturing is tough on both the people who work in it and their land. Issues arise at almost every stage of the process — the ubiquitous genetically modified seeds that strain farmers’ budgets, the pesticides used in cotton fields, the harsh chemicals used in dyes, the toxic waste that pollutes rivers, and the chemically treated clothing that ends up in landfills. The problems are exacerbated in the low-price, quick-turnaround segment of the market known as “fast fashion,” which encourages cheap production and a throwaway mind-set.

A new crop of small businesses are investing in organic farming, natural dyes and a transparent supply chain that encourages shoppers to think about the effect of their purchases — and they’re selling their products online and in a small but growing number of U.S. stores, from small trendy boutiques to Target.

These include Colorado-based PACT, which makes underwear and loungewear from all-organic cotton; New Jersey-based Boll and Branch, which sells organic-cotton bedsheets, blankets and towels; and two companies based in Los Angeles — Jungmaven, a hemp and organic-cotton T-shirt company, and Industry of All Nations, whose clothes are made with natural dyes and fibers from around the world.

The geographical heartland for most of these sustainable start-ups is India, the second-largest manufacturer of textiles in the world, behind China. Textile manufacturing is a $108 billion-a-year business here, employing more than 35 million people — including Varathan and his fellow workers at Colours of Nature.

The air inside the dye house smells of fermented indigo, oddly similar to the scent of cow dung. Pungent, to say the least. Men squat over indigo vats, dipping in T-shirt after T-shirt — some of them multiple times, to produce a darker, more intense shade. They hand the colored garments to sari-clad women, who throw them onto a clothesline. The T-shirts transform from green to blue as the indigo encounters oxygen. Dozens in varying shades of blue are drying in rows stretched across a sunny field.

KEEP READING ON THE WASHINGTON POST 

How Clothes Are Polluting the Food Supply

Author: Dr. Joeseph Mercola | Published: February 21, 2017 

Every day, each and every one of us contribute to the ongoing destruction of the environment simply by participating in modern society.

Not only do people inappropriately dispose of drugs by flushing them down the toilet, the cleaning and personal care products we use and the clothes we wear and wash on a daily basis also contribute to the environmental pollution.

Indeed, the environmental impacts of our clothing choices are shocking, as studies assessing toxic effects of various fabric treatments (such as dyes, flame retardants and stain-resistant chemicals) to laundry detergents and the fabric fibers themselves need serious attention.

The Drawback of Fleece

Microfibers1 in particular have gained notoriety for posing a serious threat to marine life and migrating into fields and onto our plates. As noted by NPR:2

“The innovation of synthetic fleece has allowed many outdoor enthusiasts to hike with warmth and comfort.

But what many … don’t know is that each wash … releases thousands of microscopic plastic fibers, or microfibers, into the environment — from their favorite national park to agricultural lands to waters with fish that make it back onto our plates.

This has scientists wondering: Are we eating our sweaters’ synthetic microfibers?

Probably, says Chelsea Rochman, [Ph.D.,] an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, St. George. ‘Microfibers seem to be one of the most common plastic debris items in animals and environmental samples,’ Rochman says.”

Microfibers Have Become a Very Significant Water Pollutant

Indeed, synthetic microfibers make up 85 percent of shoreline debris worldwide,3 and tend to be found in higher concentrations in beach sediment near waste water treatment plants.4

Water testing done by the Rozalia Project also showed microfibers are showing up in most water samples collected from the Hudson River.5 The fibers have also been found in both table salt6 and fish sold for human consumption.7

A 2015 study from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) directly linked microbead plastics and man-made microfibers to the pollution in fish,8 and when Abigail Barrows — chief investigator for Global Microplastics Initiative — sampled over 2,000 marine and freshwater fish, 90 percent had microfiber debris in their bodies.

Near identical results have been reported by Amy Lusher, a microplastics researcher based in the U.K. who co-authored a study9 on microplastic pollution in the northeast Atlantic Ocean, published in 2014. There really does not appear to be any place on Earth that remains unspoiled by plastic pollution.

As Abby Barrows, a microplastics researcher for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation told The Washington Post:10

“Working in this field of research … can be really depressing. I open up a box of water — it’s from some beautiful place in Palau, and it’s just full of plastics.

Or it’s from Antarctica, and I think there’s definitely not going to be anything in here. And it’s just full of fragments. I haven’t seen a sample that doesn’t contain an alarming amount of plastic.”

Microfibers Are Also a Potential Food Contaminant

Microfibers, which are more prevalent than microbeads (found in face scrubs and similar items), are particularly detrimental as the fibers are easily consumed by fish and other wildlife, accumulating in the gut and concentrating in the bodies of other animals higher up the food chain.

In one study, microfibers raised mortality among water fleas.11 In another, the presence of fibers were found to reduce overall food intake of crabs, worms and langoustines (aka Norway lobster),12,13 thereby threatening their growth and survival rates.

Making matters worse, these microscopic plastic fibers actually soak up toxins like a sponge, concentrating polychlorinated bisphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and oil in ever higher amounts as you move up the food chain.

Factors That Worsen Microfiber Release

Tests show each washing of a synthetic fleece jacket releases an average of 1.7 grams of microfiber, and may release as much as 2.7 grams.14,15,16 For comparison, a paperclip weighs about 1.5 grams.

The older the jacket, the more microfibers are released,17 and lower quality generic brand fleece was also found to shed 170 percent more over its lifespan than higher quality fleece.

Separate research18,19 published in Marine Pollution Bulletin found that the type of fabric also makes a difference in the rate of microfiber shed. In a comparison of acrylic, polyester and a polyester-cotton blend, acrylic was the worst, shedding microfibers up to four times faster than the polyester-cotton blend.

Different types of washing machines may also release different amounts of fibers (and chemicals) from your clothes. Tests show top loading machines release about 530 percent more microfibers than front loading models.20

KEEP READING ON MERCOLA.COM