Fast Fashion is More Dangerous Than We Thought: How Shopping at Zara Could Be Giving Us Cancer

Add toxic, cancer-causing chemicals found in fabrics to the list of reasons why fast fashion is really, really bad.
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Dhani Mau
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Add toxic, cancer-causing chemicals found in fabrics to the list of reasons why fast fashion is really, really bad.
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If the unethical working conditions, negative environmental impact, depletion of natural resources and increased pressure on the fashion industry weren't reason enough to stop you from buying fast fashion (yeah, we still do it too), this new study might.

As it turns out, many of the fabrics and dyes used by fast fashion companies (and high end fashion companies) are literally toxic--as in cancer-causing--once they're released into the environment

Greenpeace just released an investigative report called Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up in which it tested 141 items of clothing from 20 brands and found that items from every one of those brands contained traces of hazardous chemicals. The worst offenders were Calvin Klein, with 88% of items contatining hazardous chemicals, Levi's with 82% and Zara with 70%.

According to Greenpeace, these potentially cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals, including toxic phthalates, amines found in azo dyes and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), are released into the environment when these clothes are made, laundered or disposed of (though they won't necessarily cause harm to those who simply wear them). While many of those chemicals are illegal in the United States and Europe, countries such as China and Mexico--where many of these goods are produced--have laxer regulations.

So, what's the solution? Greenpeace launched a Detox campaign demanding that clothing brands change their practices, stop using harmful chemicals, and be more transparent about their manufacturing methods. Some have cooperated and some have not.

They've classified brands under various "detox statuses." "Engaged Detox Brands" that "have made a credible zero discharge commitment and are taking some steps to implement this" include H&M, C&A, and Marks & Spencer (Go H&M!).

On the other end of the spectrum, "Detox laggards" are those who've not made a zero discharge commitment and include Zara, PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger), Mango, and GAP. "Detox villains" are "brands with little or no policy or programme for chemicals management, and no commitment to Zero Discharges" and include Esprit, Metersbonwe, and Victoria’s Secret .

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So, should we all go burn our Zara clothes now? That might be too little too late (and might also just release more dangerous chemicals into the air?). It sounds like, at this point, the responsibility for keeping these chemicals out of our environment lies with the companies that are continuing to use them. Of course, not shopping there certainly couldn't hurt. Sadly, we have a feeling that buying fast fashion will just end up on the list of activities, like getting Brazilian blowouts, that we know are bad, but we do anyways.

To learn more, check out this op-ed on Business of Fashion or read the full Greenpeace report here.