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Earth Day Fashion: Synthetic Chemicals

Earth Day Fashion: Synthetic Chemicals

Over the past decade more and more consumers are questioning fashion's status quo, which has been more and more of what we now call "fast fashion".  There is a new breed of fashion shoppers who value quality not quantity and who want to make sure their clothes are made using fair labor and are not harming the environment.

While this warrants celebration, there is another side of the coin, which is that the fast fashion has still been growing at an alarming rate.  From March to June 2018, there was a 20% increase of fast fashion website visits.  At this point, fast fashion accounts for 66% of all online fashion traffic to online fashion shopping.  Not surprisingly, this has been a trend for the past few years as fast fashion sales have increased 21% since 2016.   

I used to balk at such slow measures by companies that can afford to make fast fashion, but cannot make fast improvements to the ethical and environmental impact on their production.  I've changed my tune a little and am starting to appreciate whatever measures companies take, so long as it is continuous improvement.

Plant dyed clothing takes on a couple of current issues in the fashion industry.  The first is that manufacturing is slowed down because it is simply not possible to generate clothing as quickly as non-natural dyes. An even better benefit is that it is much safer for our environment, most specifically our water supply and also our skin.

Since it is earth month, it seems timely to talk about one of the biggest problems in fashion, which is water contamination.  Our earth consists of 70% water, but only 25% is fresh water.  Of that, only 1% of our freshwater is accessible, with the remaining trapped in glaciers and snowfields. 

It's fairly easy to understand why synthetic dyes are used so much in the fashion industry. Synthetic dyes can produce many more colors than natural dyes and they are easier and faster to use.  But this comes at a price.  The toxic chemicals used in fashion production are most dangerous to the individuals who need to work with or near them. There have been countless examples of workers who do not wear protective gear while working with toxic chemicals when making our clothing.  Workers exposed to synthetic chemicals ranging from chlorine bleach to known carcinogens such as arylamines have also shown to live shorter lives and contract diseases tied to those chemicals. 

Just as concerning is the amount of toxic chemicals that end up in our water. The press has done a great job of bringing awareness to the harm of synthetic dyes and the impact of these on drinking water on earth.  It's also been well reported that the fashion industry is one of it's biggest polluters. 

It's not all doom and gloom. There has been major pushback from consumers who are demanding more ethical production and questioning fashion's status quo.  A study from Hitwise in 2017 found that 19% of fashion related internet searches also included words pertaining to ethics, sustainability and the environment. 

Whether it's to save their own business, or because they truly want to minimize harm to our planet and the people that live here, fast fashion companies have noticed and many have been taking action to be more ethical and sustainable. 

One of the biggest changes in the fast fashion world is how many more brands are trying being more and more transparent about their factories, their employees and processes.  Some of the biggest companies such as H&M are also creating collections that are more ethical in some way such as using 100% sustainably sourced cotton.

Greenpeace has been a great champion of clean water and infractions by the fashion industry.  They are currently demanding that all fashion brands made a commitment to discharge all hazardous chemicals by 2020. They are also pushing clothing suppliers to be transparent about all materials used in their production facilities, which includes toxic chemicals.  

Patagonia has increasingly been using natural dyes and they have launched a "clean colors collection" which are garments that use only natural-based dyes.  So far, five women's collections and seven men's collections have been launched in the Clean Colors Collection. In addition to plants, Patagonia is using by-products of food waste, dried beetles and silkworm waste to create beautiful and long lasting colors.  

What does this mean to you?  It means that purchasing natural clothing is become easier and easier. With increased production in the category, it means that more efficient processes are being developed and therefore more affordable prices.

To view just some of the companies utilizing plant based dying for clothes, check out the brands below and support them if you can:

Sustain by Kat
Sustain makes clothing using organic, natural fibers. Their collection of plant-dyed clothing uses certified organic material.

Miranda Bennett Studio
Miranda Bennett Studio naturally dyes textiles in addition to keeping their entire production local out of Austin, TX. 

A Verb for Keeping Warm
The products AVFKW carries are largely sourced from farms and manufacturing firms based in the USA. 

Every single piece HARA creates is naturally plant dyed by in-house. HARA believes strongly in supporting local economy so their entire production process is in their native Australia.

Industry of All Nations
Industry of All Nations works with communities around the world developing sustainable processes, including a wonderful collection of plant dyed clothing.

Lucila Kenny 
Lucila Kenny produces fashion accessories using rainwater. Leftover dyes are used for subsequent batches. 

Megan Ilene
Megan Ilene is a handmade, made-to-order brand of clothes and accessories using slow and sustainable practices. 

Patagonia takes the byproducts of food waste, dried beetles and the poop of silkworms (among other things) to create a line of clothing dyed with natural ingredients. 

Support these companies if you can.  The more we demand ethical, natural and fairly traded clothing, the more will be available.

Take me Home
A Guide to Plant Dyers

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