Cancer-causing clothes!

The readings this week, in my opinion, were not only informative, but they offered a little bit of hope for the future of the textiles industry. I will start off with saying that while reading “Material Diversity” by Kate Fletcher, I was a little bit surprised to learn more of the actual truth that debunked the common preconception about textiles in which synthetic fibers are typically seen as “bad” and natural fibers seen as the “good” and more sustainable ones. In my opinion, I would still lean towards the natural fibers as being the somewhat more sustainable ones, but not by much at all. Yes, synthetic fibers emit tons of toxic chemicals into our water and air supply, but I had no idea the extent of the damage that comes from producing natural fibers such as cotton and wool. The amount of water and energy that is consumed in most of these traditional manufacturing processes is ridiculous.

However, for me at least, reading about the manufactured fibers and what all goes on in these processes was some scary stuff. Yes, the amount of energy and heat that is used is a big issue in terms of sustainability but all the nasty, toxic chemicals that are being pumped out during the making of fibers such as nylon and polyester?! I had no idea. For all of those people who just don’t quite “get it” why it’s important to implement sustainability into these industries, maybe they just need to read this article. This isn’t just about being a hippie-tree-hugger type that’s trying to save our planet, this is more about saving ourselves. These processes are damaging to the planet that we live on but just by living on this planet, they are damaging and harmful to our health and our bodies as well. For example, emissions that come from the production of polyester include heavy metal cobalt, a couple other scary-sounding chemicals, and antimony oxide, which just so happens to be a carcinogen. Just for kicks I decided to google just how bad and toxic that was, and what came up wasn’t pretty. That chemical has a strong correlation with a gross rash in which you get spots on your skin, chronic bronchitis, and lung tumors in rats, just to name a few. And that was just one of the thousands of chemicals that are getting into our water systems and our air from the production of some of the most common fibers.

On a brighter note, there is hope! It’s in the form of fiber alternatives and better, more sustainable practices in the production of these fibers that we all more than likely use and wear every day. Processes that reduce water and energy use or use little to no synthetic pesticides and fertilizers actually exist and are being used. It’s actually a possibility to make fibers and turn them into clothes that we wear without pumping out cancer-causing chemicals into the environment! Many of these safer, less harmful processes and alternative fibers are not the most traditionally used, and may involve tradeoffs such as higher costs, more labor, etc., but the good news is that it’s out there. I think these more sustainable fibers and manufacturing processes have a real future in the textile and apparel industry. Or at least, I really hope so, if not for the sake of our environment, for the sake of our lives and our health as well as that of our future generations. Now that I am more aware of these safer alternatives, I am going to make it a point to look out for things made from recycled, organic, or naturally colored materials next time I am shopping.

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