What's In My Clothes?

It's Fashion Revolution Week and this year we are not only asking "who made my clothes?" but we are also questioning fast fashion brands on what's in my clothes.

We all know that fast fashion is killing our planet with excessive water use, harmful chemicals and a shed load of plastic that ultimately end up in water systems and the ocean. Only 5% of the raw materials used to make a garment are actually contained in the final product. The other 95% is often left unconsidered when in reality it's also having an impact on our planet.

What's in My Clothes?

So what is in our clothes? Many clothes today are made from plastic based fibres, including plyester, nylon and acrylic. When we wash our clothes microfibers are released and end up in our water systems and in the sea.

As well as this, there's also lots of harmful chemicals that go into our clothes, particularly in the dying and finishing processes. These chemicals are harmful for garment workers and even us as consumers with there being links to chemicals in our clothing and adverse health effects.

What we don't see when we look at our new purchases is the pollution produced in the manufacturing process. Rivers surrounding factories are polluted with dyes and chemicals simply to make our clothes fancy colours. Approximately 200 tonnes of water is used per tonne of fabric and much of this is returned to water systems as toxic waste. With big fashion brands outsources the manufacturing of their clothes and with there being very minimal regulation of wastewater disposal, nobody is held accountable for this. We need fashion brands to be held accountable for the damage caused during the manufacturing of their products as well as increased regulation of wastewater disposal.

Do the Labels Lie?

How do we find out what materials our clothes are made from? We check the label, right? Well, in 2018 with the introduction of a new technology called Fibersort, the composition of garments on the Dutch market were brought into question when it was found that they actually comprised of many different materials that were not stated on the label. In 2019, Circle Economy conducted large scale research to find that 41% of the garments they tested were labelled incorrectly. It was found that the strongest deviations were in products made up of multiple fibers such as polyester and cotton.

The European Union and the European Textile Regulation requires retailers to state exactly what their clothing products are made from on their labels. So how can brands be labelling their clothes incorrectly? Products are transferred from manufacturers and from supplier to supplier before reaching the final trader who is responsible for attaching the label. Naturally, inaccuracies arise since the products are not produced, dispatched and sold by the same company. So you may purchase a cotton t-shirt that you think is up to 90% cotton and it may actually consist of less than 75%.

If clothing labels are sometimes incorrect how can we go about making truly sustainable purchases? You may decide to spend a bit of extra money to invest in a plastic free cotton t-shirt in the hope that it's made from natural fibres. However, what you might actually end up purchasing something that also contains synthetic materials. We need to know what's in our clothes to ensure that we can care for them correctly so that they last longer. It's also much easier to recycle clothes made of only one material.

Where do we go from here?

This does not mean that every single clothes label is a lie. Only some are and it's something to keep in mind. We should continue to try and make sustainable choices, opting for natural fibres if we are able to do so. The best thing that we can do is put pressure on our favourite brands and ask them #whatsinmyclothes!

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