The fashion industry is the second largest polluter to our natural environment - only oil surpasses it. The driving force behind this pollution is fast fashion, or the production of cheaply made items that are produced on a massive scale for short term use, and made with irresponsible practices, to say the least. Fast fashion has taken a foothold in our culture, and it's only recently become recognized as a problem.
Fast fashion (noun): inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends
Enormous fashion companies like Forever21 and H&M are staple fast fashion culprits. Their items fall apart easily and are quickly discarded, ending up in our environment where they will persist forever. But the disposable culture isn't the only reason why fast fashion is damaging to our planet, there are countless issues within the fashion industry system. Spanning from production to labor to materials to marketing - it is complex and there is a lot to unpack.
Today I'm going to focus on a topic that is not discussed nearly enough: clothing dyes.
Traditional Clothing Dyes
The bulk of our fashion options are manufactured in developing countries with little to no regulation on environmental pollution. Clothing pieces have a coloration process, which is carried out using dyes and fresh water. The vast majority of these pieces are dyed using chemical dyes. While natural dyes made directly from plants do exist, they aren't offered by industrial suppliers.
Currently, low impact dyes are the best option for the average consumer, and very few brands are making this a priority in their sustainability model. That's why I love Synergy Clothing.
During coloration, much of the dye is lost in wastewater because it was unable to bind to the fabric- an estimated 10-15%! While this may turn a nearby river bright red, the impacts to the water quality are far worse than we realize. The harsh chemicals in dyes directly contaminate the freshwater ecosystem, but also seep into aquifers and ground water where local communities source their drinking water. Sometimes this water is treated to become clear, but studies have shown soluble chemicals persist, preventing photosynthesis of algae and collapsing the entire nearby ecosystem from the bottom up.
Dyes made of harsh, high-impact chemicals are made of dangerous compounds that threaten the health of workers in textile mills. These chemicals, like carcinogens, are not only inhaled and ingested by workers, but they are often offloaded into our environment. Illegal dumping of clothing dyes into a Chinese river has resulted in health problems to the surrounding community and lots of unanswered questions. Further, studies have linked these dyes to typical effects of harsh chemicals like chlorine and formaldehyde, including allergic reactions, increased tumors, and respiratory diseases. The workers in the mill, often disadvantaged marginalized demographics, carry the real burden of this process. Also, they are absorbed into our skin when we wear these products.
Freshwater is a large part of the dyeing process, and it uses an obscene amount in traditional textile mills. One single t-shirt will use 16-20 liters, or 4-5 gallons. If you scale that in the context of the fast fashion industry, the environmental impact on our freshwater supply is staggering. Freshwater is becoming a scarcity with increasing climate change, we can directly see it with increasing droughts and fires globally.
Low Impact Dyes:
Low impact dyes address all three of these problems within the dyeing process- which is why it's so important the brands like Synergy Clothing are supported.
First, low-impact dyes must be certified by a third party company as eco-friendly. This certification process is rigorous and prevents greenwashing by brands. Companies can't use the term "low-impact," without doing the work to claim it.
Low-impact dyes do not contain toxic chemicals to the same degree as traditional clothing items. This means wearing these items is healthier for us as consumers because we aren't absorbing the chemicals into our bodies. But it also means every piece of clothing didn't harm the health of the workers in these textile facilities, or the surrounding ecosystem.
Lower freshwater use:
Low-impact dyes require less rinsing, which means less freshwater usage. When clothing pieces are dyed, they must be rinsed many times so the fabric can absorb the coloration. Low-impact dyes result in a higher absorption rate to the fabric - almost 70% more! That's a significantly smaller water footprint, which makes all the difference for the wildlife that depend on it in their habitat.
Like I said, the issues engrained into the fashion industry are extremely complex. This is just one topic, discussed in shallow detail. Clearly the environmental and ethical standards within the fashion industry need to be redefined. We need to uphold a higher standard for our communities and planet if we want to make a difference.
Corporate fashion entities might be ruining the planet, but we are supporting them as consumers. Luckily, awareness is increasing and smaller, more mindful brands are setting the stage for our future.
Yes, Synergy Clothing uses low-impact dyes. But they do so much more. From environmentally friendly packaging to organic cotton to end of life recycling, they are addressing issues that many are pretending don't exist. If you'd like to learn more about their sustainability philosophy, click here. I challenge you to hold yourself to a higher standard, and purchase your clothes from companies that are making a difference for the better. If not you, then who?