Fashion that will make you dizzy

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Six months ago a friend of mine came back from a 8 month long summer holiday in Thailand. All she had was summer clothes and fall was closing in so she asked me to help her find some new clothes, basically an entire fall/winter wardrobe since all she has were tees, shorts and flip flops. So we went shopping. In the shops she kept saying "Oh, this is so soft, feel it..!" "My clothes have never felt like this.." over and over again while feeling up tees, knits and jeans. She had not been shopping for clothes in a looong while. At this point I was so tired of the soft-matra, I had to put a stop to it. "You have to wash it well before wearing it." "why?" "Cause it´s fabric finishes you´re feeling. Chemicals, not the garment itself." "Damn."

Yup. Damn.

Patty and Leigh Anne, from Eco Textiles wrote a good post on FORMALDEHYDE being used in most clothes (natural and man-made fibres) for softness, anti-cling, anti-static, anti-wrinkle, and anti-shrink, “wrinkle-free finish”.. You know, all the good stuff the textile industry has come up with in the past 40 years to make our lives easier, since nobody these days has no more time to iron or maintain our clothes as we should and we want everything soft'n'nice still to be cheap. But nothing comes free without a price.

Eco Textiles writes, "Formaldehyde is not good for anybody. Worst exposure is by breathing air containing off-gassed formaldehyde fumes, but it is also easily absorbed through the skin. Increases in temperature (hot days, ironing coated textiles) and increased humidity both increase the release of formaldehyde from coated textiles." Of course the exposure has to come over a long period of time for adults, but what about children and babies? Their bodies react to far smaller doses. And don´t fool yourself by thinking that all garments sold are controlled and tested for these chemicals. The tests consumer agencies make are mostly random and if something is found it is limited to that product alone being pulled off the shelfs. They continue, "Countries such as Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Netherlands and Japan have national legislation restricting the presence of formaldehyde in textile products. But in the United States, formaldehyde levels in fabric is not regulated. Nor does any government agency require manufacturers to disclose the use of the chemical on labels. Because it’s used on the fabric, it can show up on any product made from fabric, such as clothing. And it can show up in any room of the house – in the sheets and pillows on the bed, in drapery hanging in the living room or on the upholstery on the sofa. Often it’s suggested that washing the fabric will get rid of the formaldehyde. But think about it: why would a manufacturer put in a wrinkle resistant finish that washes out? If that were the case, your permanent press shirts and sheets would suddenly (after a washing or two) need to be ironed. Do you find that to be the case? Manufacturers work long and hard to make sure these finishes do NOT wash out. At least one study has found that there is no significant reduction in the amount of formaldehyde after two washings."

After reading this, doesn't ironing (personally I prefer a quality steamer) and old fashioned clothes maintanance start to sound pretty good?

The people that lose in this chemical fashion the most are the workers that make the clothes. While much of clothing industry is moved to less developed coutries, it is not just because of smaller wages and workforce control but also inexistent laws in chemical use. The workers are exposed to a variety of toxins while dyeing and finishing the garments with often zero protection (maybe a face mask). Also the chemicals are disposed of easily to nature and not through proper channels. Needless to say what the consequences are to the nearby environment. This is why you should buy things that are produced locally, from materials to finished garment or second hand.

I´ve solved the chemical problem by shopping eco fashions and second hand as much as I can. Options are still very few in Helsinki, but growing by the year. Or making my clothes myself from refashioning second hand. Shopping for second hand is good in so many ways. First, they are inexpencive. Often you can find real quality finds with a fraction of the retail price. Secondly, if the garment has been used by somebody else and it is still in good condition, the odds are it will also last your use and the next persons when you recycle it again. Thirdly, when a garment has been used it is less likely to contain high amounts of the chemicals it had when it was still brand new. Especially if it is retro (made in the 60´s-70´s) or vintage (made in the 50´s and older). But when I do have to buy new, I´ll make sure they are quality fashions that will last in use and style for years to come.

Oh, and the next time you have to go to a baby shower or a childs birthday party and you want to bring them a soft package, consider twice before buying something new and "soft". You might get more than you pay for.. Like a nasty rash or itchy eyes.

Outi Les Pyy

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1 comment:

  1. Wow what an informative post! I suppose we all take the production of our clothes for granted but you have now made me reconsider.
    Totally agree with you about being second hand, I can spend hours rummaging around charity shops x

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