KNOW THIS: The fashion industry is poisoning people.
WHY? The processing of cotton clothing uses very toxic chemicals.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT? Shun ‘fast fashion’, buy less clothing, and go organic.
How toxic is your clothing?
I love fashion. I always have. It’s a second language that we silently speak with. However fashion has gone from being something pure and beautiful, to something quite ugly that can cost lives.
The fashion industry is churning out clothes at an unprecedented rate. Magazines tell us what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ and we’re pressured to keep up with the latest trends. Fast-fashion is responsible for cheap, disposable fashion that we wear one week and throw out the next.
But what effect is this having? What is the ultimate price of cheap clothing?
We’ve all heard about the unethical labour practices of the fashion industry, but unfortunately that’s just one of the huge downsides. Each year, thousands of farm and factory workers die from the chemicals used to produce our clothes, and thousands more are hospitalised.
The growing, processing and dying of cotton involves the use of some very toxic chemicals that can cause cancer. Conventionally grown cotton (as apposed to organic) uses more insecticides than any other crop in the world – estimated as much as 25 percent of the world’s total insecticides – a huge amount for one just one crop. These chemicals can be hazardous, poisoning the workers who come into contact with them through overexposure. Between 1 and 3% of agricultural workers worldwide suffer from acute pesticide poisoning with at least 1 million requiring hospitalisation each year, according to a report prepared jointly for the FAO, UNEP and WHO. These figures equate to between 25 million and 77 million agricultural workers worldwide.
As well as poisoning workers, these chemicals could also be poisoning water supplies. Pesticides seep into run-off water after heavy rains, polluting lakes, rivers and waterways, and dye factories across the world are dumping millions of tons of dye effluent into rivers. The wastewater from textile plants is classified as the most polluting of all the industry sectors. Pesticide residue has been increasingly discovered in foods, farm animals and even breast milk.
It makes me deeply sad that hundreds of thousands of people are dying each year for our vanity. Yes we need clothes, but do we really need so many?
The best thing we can do is to turn our backs on fast-fashion and instead make more considered purchases. We need to return to the days when people bought less and cherished their clothes more. Buying good quality staple items that you love will make you happier than filling your wardrobe with junk that you never wear, or that falls apart after one wash.
Another thing we have to do is support organic clothing companies. Organic cotton farmers work with nature to help grow their crop. They regularly rotate their crops and manually weed. They use organic fertilisers such as manure and organic pesticides, such as chilli, garlic and beneficial insects. Unfortunately it costs a lot more to produce organic clothing and so very few brands offer it, but if we all were as concerned about the deaths of factory workers killed by chemicals as we were about those killed in unethical working environments, companies would have to listen.
Learning all this information has changed my shopping habits. I used to be a shopaholic with three heaving wardrobes and several suitcases bursting with clothes. Now when I walk into a clothing store I see things differently. I see waste and suffering. I feel so sad that people are suffering just so that we can look good. And when you think about it like that, it’s not far off fur.