Toxic clothing exposed: Zara, Esprit and other fast-fashion brands

Since 2011, Greenpeace's 'Detox campaign' has challenged some of the world's most popular clothing brands to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals...

A study by Greenpeace into fast-fashion a few years ago exposed a number of toxic chemicals present in clothing made by some of the worlds largest apparel retailers, including including Armani, Benetton, Calvin Klein, Diesel, Esprit, Gap, Levi Strauss, Victoria's Secret, and Zara.

Zara, the largest of them all, was in fact one of the worst offenders.

Zara alone churns out 850 million clothing items a year. You can imagine the size of the toxic footprint it has left on this planet, particularly in developing countries like China where many of its products are made.
- says Li Yifang, a toxics campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

The Investigation

To discover if toxic chemicals were being used in the production of fast-fashion, Greenpeace purchased 141 items of clothing, including jeans, trousers, T-shirts, dresses, and underwear made from both natural and synthetic materials, from authorised retailers in 29 countries and regions.

After testing the clothes at Greenpeace's Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter, and also at independent accredited labs worldwide, they found that all the brands had at least several items containing hazardous chemicals, including some classified as "toxic" or "very toxic" to aquatic life. For example persistent nonylphenol (NP), a hormone-disruptor known to accumulate in fish and other aquatic organisms.

Two clothing items, both from Zara, contained cancer-causing amines from the use of AZO dyes.

A more recent study by Greenpeace in 2014 revealed the presence of hazardous chemicals in children's clothing and footwear made by 12 international global fashion brands, including adidas, Primark and Disney. Unwittingly, you could have been exposing your children to toxic chemicals through buying these brands, most of whom have since committed to detoxing their clothes.

Since its launch July 2011, the Detox campaign has mobilised hundreds of thousands of people around the world to challenge major clothing brands to eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products.

So far, the campaign has been able to secure public commitments from nineteen international fashion companies: Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A, Li-Ning, Zara, Mango, Esprit, Levi's, Uniqlo, Benetton, Victoria's Secret, G-Star Raw Valentino, Coop, Canepa, Burberry, and Primark.

We are happy to hear this, and it's a great step in the right direction for these companies. However, this is only one aspect of many problematic issues with fast-fashion, which is inherently unsustainable in its very nature.

However, it is incredibly important that brands focus on creating concrete elimination plans for the most hazardous substances, as well as providing greater transparency around the chemicals that their suppliers currently release into our shared waterways.

Whilst we may not always directly feel the impacts of toxic chemicals in our clothes, those living close to or working in factories deserve to know what's in their water, and to be able to live without the daily threat of toxic chemicals.

Brands need to have a commitment to creating toxic-free fashion on behalf of their customers, the local communities and future generations.

READ MORE: 5 celebrities who LOVE sustainable fashion

What you can do

Green Your Fashion... Dress To Save

The clothes you wear can make a big impact on the environment. Where possible, try to buy environmentally friendly fabrics: organic cotton, bamboo fabric, recycled synthetics, hemp are some of the cool alternatives to traditional fabrics.

273 Tonnes of CO2
savings pledged
Pledge to do this

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