The Global Clothing Companies' Report Card

We've talked much about global companies jumping on the detox bandwagon and pledging to remove toxins from their clothing. However, which of these companies are actually making progress and fulfilling their obligations? And which companies have simply refused to make the pledge?

Greenpeace has established an internet project called "The Detox Catwalk", who's purpose is to keep track of global apparel companies and rank them for their efforts to remove toxins from clothing. The ranks are separated into three categories: leaders, greenwashers and laggards. The leaders are the companies that are making progress on their obligations. Included among these are Levi's, Mango, Espirit, H&M and a few others. And the standard used by Greenpeace is also separated into three categories: prevention, transparency, and elimination. Is the company taking steps to prevent future use of toxins? Is the company being open and honest about the chemicals they're using? And is the company making progress on eliminating toxic chemicals currently in their clothing? The leaders satisfy these standards above all others.

However, among the companies pledging to eliminate toxins there are a few which are stalling and not meeting their commitments. The three principle ones are Adidas, Nike and Li Ning. All three of these companies took Greenpeace's detox pledge and all three are refusing to follow through.

And then there are those companies refusing to take any action when it comes to toxins. Including among this group are Gap Inc., Only the Brave, Giorgio Armani, and Bestseller among others (there's a more complete list of these companies in the links below).

Many of the companies in the "leaders" category required much public pressure in the form of protests as well as hashtag activism and other social media work. Similar actions may be necessary to get the rest of these companies to move forward on detoxing. Or it may come to the point where the market will decide the paths these companies take, in which case it is up to us to make sure the companies making detox efforts are the ones being rewarded.

Phthalate Esters and Amines from Azo Dyes

Phthalate Esters

Phthalate esters, also known as Phthalates are found in many printed clothing items. Phthalates are used in PVC, inks, adhesives, sealants, and surface coatings.
According to a study conducted by Greenpeace, phthalates are known to have negative effects on the Kidneys and Liver. They are also known to have effects on reproductive organs and reproductive development, similar to NPEs. Regulation is lacking on phthalates. Only the EU has placed any regulation on some phthalates.
In the study, phthalates were found in garments from Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret, and Armani. The Phthalates that were found, known to have negative effects, are di-2-ethexyl phthalate (DEHP), diisonoyl phthalate(DINP), and benzyl butyl phthalate. Other phthalates known to have negative effects are diisodecyl phthalate.

Amines from Azo Dyes

In a study conducted by Greenpeace, amines from azo dyes were found in garments made for Zara, sold in Lebanon and Hungary.
Some amines are known to be carcinogenic. The amine found in the garments from Zara is o-dianisidine(3,3’-dimethoxybenzidine). This amine is known to be carcinogenic. It is related to bladder cancer. There are some EU, US, China, and international regulations on Amines.

Avoiding These Harmful Chemicals

It would be a good idea to avoid these chemicals to avoid their harmful effects. Because these toxins are known to be carcinogens and have negative effects on reproductive development, it should be important to make sure that they are not in clothing. While there are some regulations on some phthalates and amines in clothing, they are not comprehensive to all of the toxins known to be harmful in those groups. More studies of these toxins are required to prove their harmfulness in order to pass regulation on them.
On a personal level, individuals can avoid these toxins by wearing natural and organic toxin free clothing. There are several brands of these kind of clothing. Thrifting is also an affordable and sustainable way to find good pieces made with natural fibers. Because phthalates are used in the clothing with printed art on them like tee shirts, printed tee shirts, from brands known to use, them can be avoided. Because these chemicals are not marked on clothing labels, it really requires regulation to be sure that they are not present in clothing.


Green Is the New Black

Often, it seems we must be made to compromise something when it comes to “going green.” With cars, it can mean a trade-off between performance and horsepower, or the better gas-mileage of a hybrid (or pure electric) vehicle. With food, we often have to pay much higher prices for the organic equivalents of our meat, fruits and vegetables. And when it comes to clothing, most of us think that a similar sacrifice must be made when it comes to fashion and style, or even the number of choices we have for organic and non-toxic clothing.

As this article from Fashionista points out, however, going green with your clothing doesn't have to mean giving up your style. The article also details the specific areas in which the retailers and manufacturers listed are doing their part for the environment, as well as the price range for each, so finding a fit for both your conscience and budget is a snap.

Also, by 2020, hip clothing retailers H&M and Zara have vowed to discontinue the use of toxic chemicals in their products. So, just as lead was eventually phased out for use in gasoline, toxic-free clothing may very well become the norm in the very near future!

Organic Choices

If toxic clothing awareness is common, finance can be a disadvantage, but so can personal choices. If everyone was equally aware that there are harmful toxins in our clothes, would it really affect apparel choices? We are all equally aware that smoking is harmful to your lungs and body, can cause cancer, and lead to death… but we still see people spending more on cigarettes than their daily Starbucks intake. Tanning beds have also been medically linked to melanoma, yet they still get a large population of people paying to roast in them in order to achieve a different skin tone. With that said, this population of people obviously has money to splurge, but are still making harmful choices willingly.
It’s no secret that healthy choices come at a price. “Organic” is all the rage these days, but it doesn’t come cheap. It definitely makes it hard for people who need to stay on budget. So what about these clothing toxins? If everyone was educated about this issue, they would most likely want to keep their distance from it, but could they?
Most clothing found containing toxins were manufacture overseas. It’s well known that manufacturing overseas is standard process for most companies: cheap labor, high production, and large profit. These are the clothes that are accessible to the average blue collar man. However, even high end brands like Burberry have been affected by the crackdown on toxins. Tests revealed the presence of harmful chemicals in Burberry’s kids apparel. These toxins don’t seem to be confined to cheap apparel. So where can we shop healthy? And how much is it going to cost me? 

There are a variety of shops targeted at healthy living and organic products. A popular apparel shop is Synergy Clothing, with stores throughout California as well as an online shopping site for your convenience. This clothing company uses 100% organic cotton that has less  of an impact on the environment. 

Overall, it’s hard to leave the decision up to shoppers who have been educated about the toxins in clothing. They might change their shopping ways and have enough money to change their way of living or not have enough money and keep wearing toxic clothes because you don’t have other options accessible to you. Maybe toxins in clothing should be completely eliminated and all clothes should be organic as a universal healthy living standard. 

DIY Fashion From Old Clothing

Have you ever walked into a clothing store to find your personal finances did not allow you to purchase the shirt you found? 
The truth is, you can have that shirt you’ve been wanting, and it’s been hanging in your closet this whole time.

Do it yourself or "DIY" has become increasingly popular. People from all over have been creating a new sense of fashion by evolving old articles of clothing into something new and unique. 

It’s called Trash to Couture and Lauren Conrad is committed to re-using clothing from donations to produce new products.

If there is ever moment when you believe it’s time to throw out that old pair of pants hanging in the closet, re-think and re-cycle old clothing into something new.

What you think is trash could be someone’s new treasure…

Major Brands with NPEs or Nonylphenol Ethoxylates

Greenpeace has come up with some major brands that have NPEs or Nonylphenol Ethoxylates.  What is Nonylphenol Ethoxylates and why is it harmful?  Basically it's a chemical that is harmful to human health and the environment.  According to Wikipedia, nonylphenol has the following harmful effects:
  • Harmful effects in pregnancy (implantation failure, pregnancy loss, and other complications) 
  • Eating disorders (extreme weigh gain (store fat later in life) and loss, potential liver issues)
  • It has been associate to breast cancer
It has also brought concerns to the EPA and according to them, NPEs has been seen in aquatic environment and organism and these chemicals get into our water stream.  NP has been detected in human breast milk, blood, and urine. 

Here are some brands that has been tested by Greenpeace that have NPEs:
  • Abercrombie & Fitch: 3 positive results, out of 3 samples tested
  • Adidas: 4 out of 9
  • Calvin Klein: 3 out of 4
  • Converse: 5 out of 6
  • Gap: 0 out of 2
  • H&M: 4 out of 6
  • Lacoste: 1 out of 4
  • Nike: 5 out of 10
  • Puma: 7 out of 9
  • Ralph Lauren: 3 out of 4
Nike and Puma, both committed to zero NPEs by 2020.


Spreading Awareness

Recently I was on the social media site Facebook and saw that one of my friends had posted a picture of a pop-up notification that displayed when she was about to purchase a certain item of clothing off a website. The notification states:

California Residents
Proposition 65 Warning:

This product may contain a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm. For other information refer to the FAQs of the Office of Environmental of Health Hazard Assessment.

This notification instantly changed her mind about purchasing the item of clothing. She then posted the photo on her news feed and her friends and family began to comment. It seemed like most if not all of them were shocked that clothing could contain such harmful chemicals. This relates directly to the quote "Out of Sight Out of Mind." It's not that these people are naive. They just simply aren't knowledgeable about the toxins that are in clothing because it isn't something that's discussed in great detail or broadcasted as a serious concern.

The fact is, is that our skin is the largest organ in our body. It eliminates and absorbs toxins on a daily basis. When toxins are absorbed through your skin they are taken into the lymphatic system, and then into the liver, the organ responsible for removing toxins from the body. However, Petrochemical fibers and other fabric dyes suffocate your skin, which shut down the release process of these toxins. If these toxins can't be released from the body they will continue to absorb, which can act as a catalyst for numerous life threatening diseases.

Spreading knowledge of this issue is the most important aspect to making significant changes to the world and the clothing industry. If every website was required to display a message explaining if harmful chemicals went into the production of the apparel, more people would become aware of the situation and avoid purchasing it. Better yet, if these websites displayed this information and also suggested sustainable alternatives in a similar style, then there's no telling how big of an impact we could make. Share your knowledge about this subject with anyone and everyone you can. Utilize social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to reach wider audience.

Link for more info:

A simple way to help in the battle against toxins.

In continuing my research on toxins in clothing, I came upon a Greenpeace video on YouTube entitled, Detox: How People Power is Cleaning Up Fashion.  In complete honesty, I almost passed it over thinking it would be biased propaganda, but I decided to give it a try anyhow.  While viewing the brief production, my mind flashed to 2nd or 3rd grade, remembering that we had watched videos on pollution back then. 
Currently, as a 42-year-old man, I am grieved that we have allowed our environment to regress to its current state.  I think part of the reason is that many of us sit idly by, assuming that someone else will take care of the problem.  Or, it could be that we don’t know how to get involved or don’t have the time.  Well, I have some good news!  In this video, Greenpeace gives an excellent summary of our current pollution problem, but then follows that with a link that leads to their international detox campaign
This resource has easy ways to get involved that are as simple as signing an online petition, which informs major fashion labels that we will not stand for continued pollution!  Looks folks, we can make a difference, even if it is from the comfort of our own homes.  Just take a few minutes and see what you can do to help, you’ll be surprised how simple it truly is.  

Zara commits to go toxic-free

The brand ZARA has announced that it would soon go toxic free. It started when volunteers dressed as ‘revolting mannequins' showed up at ZARA’s outlets all around the world back in 2011. Their demands were that ZARA should stop releasing the dangerous chemicals that are produced by their supply chain and clothes. Finally after around two years ZARA realised the importance of this and showed the urgent need to solve its toxic pollution problems. As the campaign started it was seen that thousands of fans started calling on the company to follow the Detox system, and people from all over the world showed their desire to stop this act on different social media websites.
The business has now promised that they would expel the dangerous chemicals from their supply chain and products by the year 2020. It has also insured that it would eliminate other worse chemicals such as PFC even sooner by 2015. Other brands have also stepped forward and initiated to take action against releasing harmful chemicals in the environment. These chemicals have posed a serious threat to the environment and it is the right time to take adequate actions to minimise or completely finish its affects. 

As people are concerned about the causes and effects of these harmful chemicals, and how they are pollution the waterways, Zara says that by the end of 2013 at least 100 of its suppliers in the Global South (including at least 40 in China) will publicly disclose data about their releases of hazardous chemicals into the environment. Zara's transparency revolution will be key to make sure that brands who commit to Detox follow through on achieving zero discharges by 2020 effectively. Big brands such as Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A and Li-Ning have joined hands in this cause; more and more brands are gradually responding to the Detox situation and the clothing companies are trying to be the part of the solution.
We believe that this is a very good action being taken because as the world’s population is growing, the natural resources are becoming scarce or humans are polluting them. we believe that this is a very wise step and people have the right to know about what is polluting their environment and what actions can be taken to control these problems. Businesses and consumers should know the problems that are being caused, and should work together to make the environment better for the future generations. 

The Worst that Could Happen...

As we have often pointed out on this blog, one of the chemicals frequently used in the production of textiles and clothing is formaldehyde – yes, the same stuff they use to embalm corpses at your local mortuary. Clothing manufacturers use it to prevent wrinkling and mildew in shipping, despite the fact it is a known carcinogen and tests have shown that some clothes made in China were found to have 900 times the recommended safety limit of the chemical.

While it may only cause mild skin irritation for some, for others, like UK resident Merlene Paul, the effects of the chemical can be devastating. After three months of working around rolls of fabric treated with formaldehyde, she began to feel very ill.

“I started off with flu-like symptoms and then I developed bloodshot eyes and my nose started to bleed. I visited the doctor repeatedly but they couldn’t explain it. Then I developed welts on my body.”

Not long after her symptoms developed, she collapsed while at work and was finally diagnosed with an allergy to formaldehyde. Paralyzed for two weeks, it was a struggle for her to finally walk again. You can read more about Merlene's ordeal, and about others like her who suffer from severe allergies to toxic chemicals and dyes in clothing in this article from The Daily Mail.

You can learn more about what kinds of chemicals are used in clothing manufacture and their effects on the Greenpeace website.

Consumers and Activists Launch Toxic-Free Trend Worldwide

The movement towards toxin-free clothing has gained a full head of stream as more and more compaines have taken the pledge to eliminate potentially harmful substances from their clothing. I've written earlier about the example set by the international apparel company Burberry by agreeing to remove all toxins from their products, but an even more significant example might be the Spanish retailer Zara. However, this change didn't occur without resistance. And only after intense pressure was applied by consumers and activists did the company finally get on board.

Based in Arteixo, Galicia, Zara was singled out by Greenpeace in their 2012 report "Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-up" for their abnormal amount of pollutants in clothing (compared to other companies). Roughly 60% of their clothes were found to contain harmful products including some chemicals that are thought to cause cancer.

The company refused to alter its manufacturing at first, resulting in protests against the company in locations all over the globe (mostly led by Greenpeace). Added to this was an intense social networking campaign to put pressure on Zara. Only after 9 days of tough protesting plus the efforts of people on Facebook and other sites did the company finally agree to a new approach.

Just like Burberry, Zara has now pledged to eliminate all toxins from their clothing by 2020. This demonstrates the immense effect that potential consumers can have on a company's policies. Some went directly to the company to demand change, others simply took to Twitter. In the end, the biggest polluter of dangerous chemicals in clothing agreed to continue the trend of phasing out these dangerous chemicals as a result of the actions of activists and consumers. And now added to the ranks of Burberry and Zara are companies like Nike, Adidas, H & M, Esprit, Mango, Primark, and others who have taken this pledge against potentially dangerous toxins. So if consumers are willing to demand it, more companies, such as Levi's, could be convinced to take a stand.

Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up
Zara Yields Under Pressure
Greenpeace Takes Action
Esprit Also Goes Toxic-Free
Primark Joins the Toxic-Free Trend
Zara's Wikipedia Page
Organic Clothing: Make Your Own

Organic clothing can be very expensive to purchase. You may find it less costly to make your own. Whether you are a skilled or beginner sewer, making your own organic clothing can be a rewarding experience. However, you may need a refresher or a class to teach you the basics of sewing. Check with local sewing stores in your area for classes, or visit, where you can get started with free sewing classes online.

Once you have the basics, head to the fabric store for a pattern and fabric. You can also try here for access to free sewing patterns, or do your own searching on the web.

 HINT: If you are new to sewing, look for options marked "easy"! If you don’t have a fabric store in your area that sells organic fabric, check my list below for online retailers.

Organic fabric can be expensive, too, so keep an eye out for deals and coupons, and be sure to purchase only as much as you need. Check with your retailer for advice if you need help choosing appropriate fabric and quantities.

If you need a little general sewing advice, check here and here for some links to getting started. You might even find sewing your own clothes so rewarding that you want to make a business venture out of it!

Some online fabric resources to get you started: