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The textile industry is known to use massive quantities of chemicals. How do these toxic components affect the body, what are they exactly, how to protect your children and yourself ? Little overview of the whole fabric chain + testimony from organic brand designers.

If you start looking at how clothes are made and how much treatment they get, you can become dizzy.
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It starts with the raw material, either artificial, synthetic or natural, all of which (unless organic), involve a chemical process. The cotton material used in a simple tee-shirt for example will have sucked 150 grams of pesticides and fertilisers during its growth.
It will then be cleaned with EDTA and dyed with sodium or ammonium salts + formaldehyde.
To make it softer, additional doses of chemicals will be added. A print on the tee will require using phthalates.  
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Adding insult to injury, a whole new series of treatments are becoming very fashionable, not to say indispensable. The latest trend is the no-iron cotton (apparently 70% of the market in the US), which involves an extra layer of toxic substances (same as used in non-stick pans).
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In many countries regulations also impose a treatment against fire, with another hard-to-pronounce substance.  It could end here, but then the garment has to travel – most of the time very far, so it gets sprayed for disinfection purposes, to avoid parasites damage.
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Now, what does all this do to your body? If you have read on the subject of toxicity (see  for instance my post about cosmetics), you will know that our skin is not an impermeable barrier and that what passes across it goes straight to the blood stream, without being filtered by the liver. An even quicker process if you wear tight clothes that rub on you skin all day long (the jeans on your waist, the elastic of your bra on your chest…).  This is why medical and cosmetic patches work, and also why we see a raise in so called intelligent fabrics.
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If nano-technologies look great on the paper, allowing for instance anti-bacterial, anti-odour and anti-mosquito textiles, hydrating or weght-loss tights, we are not sure of the real impact on human health. The anti-bacterial or anti-fungal garments are now suspected to be a cause of intestinal flora imbalance (and thus affect the immune system) as the chemical components, instead of staying at the level of your socks and treat your feet, will tend to migrate higher up in the body and destroy friendly bacteria, like antibiotics do.
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We are bathing in a chemical soup that contributes to all sorts of regrettable health conditions. Some say it is too much for them and they can’t control anything, I recommend to take a responsible behaviour and to do everything stop that chemical invasion in the areas we have control on.
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What can we do, then, when it comes to textiles?
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– Wash all new clothes before wearing them (but not only once…look at what Inga Allen from L’Asticot writes about washing…stunning!).
– Give priority to natural fibres and organic materials when you can.
– Avoid clothes that are too tight and rubbing on your body parts. Same for shoes. In Africa when you want to get rid of an enemy, you put bad chemicals on its shoe sole and it will be very efficient, even more quickly if it is a women bering high heels, so having a lot of friction with the evil substance).
– Avoid synthetic underwear, especially at night.
– Use organic laundry powder, or soap nuts (see info here).
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The choice of organic clothes go beyond our individual protection. It impacts the health of the planet we live in :
  • It keeps millions of pounds of chemicals out of the environment (chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically engineered ingredients). Some of the substances mentioned above are not biodegradable, they remain in the nature as water purification stations can’t treat them. 
  • It creates healthier working conditions for all people involved in the production chain.
  • It helps reducing global warming with far less CO2 released into the atmosphere.
  • It promotes a bio-diversity that is crucial for the good health of our planet.

Macarons

Something reflected in the philosophy of German brand Macaron, known as experts and innovators in organic fabric developments. The company has a long family history in textile expertise and works with fantastic craftsmen knit partners in Germany and luxury weavers in Switzerland. So, to the “why organic question, Julie Carol Kohlhoff (owner of the brand) answers : “We are convinced that organic chemical free textiles produced regarding the dignity and respect to the people and our planet is the only way of leading a business nowadays. We feel responsible to make the right decisions for our customers starting of with the best organic textiles. We are seeking for future viability. Only if you are really honest, passionate and true to yourself you can become really good in what you do. We want to offer outstanding beautiful organic fabrics in terms of design, colors, structure and quality. Organic and fair produced textiles are the only way on how to improve the life of the people involved in the product life cycle, the environmental problems on our planet, our health with the skin being the largest human organ. We all should start to ask the important questions: Where are your clothes made? Who made your clothes? How where the clothes made? Where do the fabrics come from”
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Inga Allen of Swiss brand L’Asticot continues : “We care about your kids long after they’ve grown out of our clothes. L’asticot children’s fashion believes that a love for kids and a love of the planet are inseparable buddies. It’s not just what we believe – it’s what we do, every day, every step of the way. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that clothes that last longer put less strain on the environment. The l’asticot product range has a host of tricks up its sleeve to extend garments’ lives. These range from the use of robust natural materials certified GOTS, such as organic cotton jersey and organic wool, to fun unisex designs that free hand-me-downs from any his or hers hang-ups. L’asticot refuses to use any chemicals in its dyes that could be hazardous to health. The colours in our fabrics are kind to the most sensitive young skin from day one. Laboratory tests have even shown that garments using potentially hazardous chemical-based dyes would have to be washed at least 11 times to reach the same skin tolerance levels as a l’asticot garment at the time of purchase. Need proof? So did we, so we got ourselves Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification to be totally sure. We produce the l’asticot clothes and accessories in a family-owned facility in Portugal that has the European Ecolabel (No PT/016/04)”.
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Another important thing to keep in mind that regulations don’t protect consumers, they protect the industry who gives lots of money through their lobbies. The regulations that are in place are anyhow not applied. Through controls on phthalates, Greenpeace found that 60% of products are not following regulations.  Phthalates are known carcinogen and can cause male infertility.

 

Thinking in terms of clothes is not enough, textiles are also a good part of our life under the form of sleeping environment, i.e. sheets, blankets and mattresses. Owner of Dutch organic bedding line YEAR, Eline Teng- Van den Borwhy comments : “I think it is important that parents use organic materials for their bedding. Did you know that little baby’s sleep for about 18 hours per day? So, most of the time they spend in bed. Their skin is still very sensitive and also their immune system is still not fully developed.  That’s the most important reason why parents should choose natural, and more specific organic materials in the bedroom.  Just imagine what it does to such a young body when it is in contact with pesticides and harmful chemicals for the 3 quarters of the day!”.