Are You Wearing Toxic Clothing?

Our fashion choices make a personal statement about who we are – or  so we’d like to think. The truth is, our susceptibility to marketing may contradict our values and best thinking when it comes to environmental sustainability.

Most people have no idea that many brands we choose for fashion or outdoor recreation gear contain hazardous chemicals that can do harm to ourselves and others. No one selects their wardrobe or outdoor gear explicitly to pollute rivers and streams or expose garment workers to dangerous chemicals and pollutants. That’s not exactly a self-image we’d wish to project to others.

Nature lovers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and fashionistas would be disheartened if they knew how many popular brands of clothing and outdoor recreation gear seem at odds with concerns for the environment.

Manufacturers, brands and retailers are mainly concerned about marketing, the art of creating desire and manipulation of emotions to sell products and services; but their wholesome feel-good images used for promotions may seem at odds with environmental sustainability.

Consumers cannot be blamed for knowing little about how products they purchase can cause harm, because the apparel and sporting goods industries aren’t advertising toxins as benefits. So people are buying products without being fully informed about the downsides associated with toxic dyes, water repellants and other chemicals and manufacturing processes.

With most media obsessed with political hijinks and scandals, violence, disasters and entertainment, it’s understandable why toxins in clothing and outdoor gear receive little media attention. It’s not business as usual though, because organizations such as Greenpeace are trying to bring the issue to the forefront.

Greenpeace has been taking on the apparel and sporting goods industries to encourage them to become more transparent and commit to cleaning up their supply chains to get toxic chemicals out of their products and manufacturing processes.

In July, Greenpeace released a report that ranks major fashion brands and their good efforts (or lack of efforts) to make progress on resolving problems with toxins in apparel. It received commitments from 76 suppliers, brands and retailers to develop new standards for toxic-free products by 2020.

Greenpeace’s Detox Catwalk report (http://greenpeace.org/detoxcatwalk) lauds H&M, Zara and Benetton for leading the fashion industry in setting new standards for toxic-free apparel. It claims that Nike, Esprit, Victoria’s Secret and LiNing failed to take necessary steps to remove toxins from products.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace took the outdoor recreational products industry to task when it released a report detailing tests of 40 different brands of footwear, trousers, sleeping bags, jackets, backpacks, tents and gloves, which all contained chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and human health.

The Greenpeace report entitled Leaving Traces found that outdoor gear from such brands as Mammut, North Face and Patagonia contained toxic chemicals common among many outdoor recreation industry brands. Chemical contamination with such pollutants has been found in human blood and as far away as the Arctic in the livers of polar bears. It might require some extra research, but being knowledgeable about what goes into making your outdoor gear just might help preserve the outdoors.

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