Is Toxic the New Black?

The fashion industry seems to think that toxic is the shade of the season, with new evidence of toxic clothes to match toxic purses and toxic jewelry. Greenpeace has recently released a report that uncovers the use of a cocktail of toxic chemicals in clothing by 20 major fashion brands, including Calvin Klein, Armani, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, and Zara.

In April, Greenpeace purchased and tested 141 pieces of clothing from stores in 29 different countries, and found toxic phthalates, cancer-causing amines, and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in many of the pieces. 89 articles of clothing contained NPEs, with the highest concentrations detected in clothing from C&A, Mango, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, and Zara. Phthalates were detected in all 31 items that had a plastisol print, and in very high concentrations in 4 items from Tommy Hilfiger, Armani, and Victoria’s Secret. Two items sold by Zara contained azo dyes that released cancer-causing amines.

The report, called Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up, is part of Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign. The campaign incriminates toxic fashion in the continued pollution of waterways. Greenpeace is careful to point out that the levels of chemicals detected in the garments are not known to be a direct health risk to the wearers of the clothing. Rather, Greenpeace’s concern is that the chemicals discharge into aquatic systems, both from local manufacturing facilities and from consumers washing the clothing after purchase. Because of the sheer volume of clothing being made and sold, the amount of toxic chemicals that accumulate in water systems creates a serious threat to the environment and aquatic life. NPEs, in particular, are known endocrine-disrupting toxins to aquatic organisms.

In another report released just this week, titled Toxic Threads: Putting Pollution on Parade, Greenpeace reveals their findings from testing water samples taken from the effluent of wastewater treatment plants in China that serve a high number of textile manufacturers.  Many international clothing brands source from these manufacturers. The report details finding a wide range of chemicals with known hazardous properties which are related to textile manufacturing, including chlorinated anilines and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

 The Big Fashion Stitch-Up also directs a particular critique at “fast fashion.” Fast fashion refers to retailers like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 that offer current runway trends for cheap prices. The quick turnaround in manufacturing and the low retail prices encourage irresponsible production practices, which can lead to toxic consequences. We highlighted this in a previous post about the high number of lead-tainted purses that we found at Forever 21. While fast fashion may save us as consumers a few dollars off of trendy clothes, we end up paying a much higher price as toxic chemicals accumulate in our bodies and in our environment and threaten our health and future.

We support Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign and join their call to all clothing companies to commit to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.  You can visit the website for the Detox Campaign to learn more about the campaign and action steps you can take to end the use of toxins in clothing.