chemical facts

/ chemical facts: the chemicals in our clothing – the good, the bad and the ugly

chemical kills
© Design reproduced with permission by Extended Diploma in Art and Design student at Colchester Institute 2011

Today’s world of fast and cheap fashion creates a powerful downward pressure on suppliers that rewards rock bottom wages, long hours and hazardous working conditions and the use of toxic materials and dangerous pollutants. Such cost cutting measures are reinforced in the marketplace, where price alone drives most of consumers’ buying decisions; where they ignore the hidden impacts of the steps taken along the way, to keep prices low.

In an ideal world all processes, products and by-products at all stages of production of textiles and clothing would nourish and enhance the environment and all that live in it; this is the ethos of the “Cradle to Cradle” approach to living (Braugart and McDonough, 2010), whereby product components can be designed for continuous recovery and reutilization as biological and technical nutrients. Typically, conventional textile and garment manufacturing is widely recognised as one of the most polluting and exploitive industries today, and although the chemical impacts created through the production of textiles and clothing are not fully known, we do know that there is “evidence pointing to a possible link between the rise of certain non-infectious human health problems and the increase in our exposure to the many synthetic chemicals” used to produce textile fibres and clothing today. (Ashton and Salter Green, 2006:7)

Textiles: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, provides information about exactly that – what’s good, bad and damn right ugly about the clothes we wear. I wanted to start by looking at the chemical finishes that are often applied to a garment, which are listed under Textiles: The Ugly, then what I consider “traditional textiles” which are listed under Textiles: The Bad, defining these as textiles that were widely used for clothing before or shortly after the industrial revolution. Textiles: The Good looks at healthier alternatives to the “traditional textiles” identified in Textiles: The Bad, using methods that use either less harmful processes or chemicals, and the Sustainable Textiles Directory looks at textiles that consider sustainable development, in the context of cultivation or production. To clearly define what I mean by “sustainable development”, I am using a definition given by the IUCN, UNEP, WWF (1991):

“Sustainable development is used in this strategy to mean: improving the quality of human life whilst living within the carrying capacity of the ecosystems”.

Many of the textiles listed in the Sustainable Textiles Directory are more contemporary developments, or are traditional textiles that have re-emerged since the introduction of more contemporary or environmentally-friendly technologies, and are produced in ways that consider their environmental and social impact.



/ textiles: the good

/ textiles: the bad

/ textiles: the ugly

/ sustainable textiles

/ REACH legislation

/ textile labelling

/ glossary

/ bibliography and links