What the fashion?! Harmful hues and toxic trends

What is fashion? It’s the expression of an individual. We decide what we wear and how we want to be perceived. Some of us even pay vast amounts of money just to look ‘fashionable’ and to be viewed in a certain way by others, because we like how it makes us feel.

For many years, clothes were about what could be passed on from parent to child, or sibling to sibling. We buy clothes that are cheap, but often disposable. How did this happen and what impact has it made on our lives?

Like fast food, ‘fast fashion’ can have a negative impact on our planet and our health. When I was growing up, I was taught that neither food nor fashion should be wasted, and to get good quality clothes you would have to make them yourself.


Both my grandmas had either the first leg-operated or electrical sewing machines. I was about 11 when I first sat at a machine. My very first attempt at sewing was to make clothes for my doll! It was a great experience and from there I began to observe how clothes were made by deconstructing them. I started making things by hand: first aprons then bags, all from scraps of old clothes and curtains.

My work soon became more and more complex and so when I was 14 I got my own sewing machine, funded by my grandmothers. And so it began: I spent days designing and making clothes I couldn’t afford and started to sell them. Fabrics were reasonably cheap compared to clothes, so I could make a garment ten times the price of the fabric. My creative spirit was flowing!

My designs were usually made from natural materials like linen cotton or viscose. 90% of my wardrobe was designed and made by myself. My clothes were unique and every piece of fabric was used to the end with no wastage. People on the street would ask me about my clothes and where they could buy them, who soon became my clients. My friends and I would have fashion shows and photo shoots – it was so much fun!

And then it started to change. In the early 90s in Poland in eastern Europe, more and more clothes (very cheap clothes from the Far East) made the market of fast fashion. It was no longer unique and no longer personal. Trends would come and go and clothes became very cheap – a t-shirt the same price as a cup of coffee! People stopped making clothes year by year; there were less and less seamstresses, and dressmakers started to close down.


From this point, people’s relationships with fashion began to change dramatically. Many people started to buy clothes without thought or need. Clothes became easily accessible and once we got bored of them, we would throw them away – something we wouldn’t have done with handmade trousers that still fit us.

The impact this has made on our planet is huge: on resources (organic and chemical); the use of chemicals (related to toxicity and pollution); producing carbon (through energy used); and the amount of water used (for growing crops and chemicals used in production). The growing piles of waste put social pressure on farmers and manufacturers, ending up in low wages.

With this, landfills have started to grow. Like with all disposables, the amount of clothes in landfills has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. 3 tons of clothing is sent to a landfill every five minutes. 20% of chemical waste comes from dying clothes. It takes 2.7 tons of water to make one t-shirt. This is why the fashion industry is considered one of the most polluting global industries (together with the lead, mining, meat and dairy industries).

Buy less, choose well and make it last.

– Vivienne Westwood

Let’s add on the fact that it’s also polluting our bodies; the amount of dyes used by the industry is incredible. Until recently, we didn’t know that the dye can penetrate the skin and affect our endocrine system. Trichlorobenzenes are used as dye carriers and also in the production of pigments and dyes. Under the laws of different countries, more than 550 types of dyes and over 3,000 chemicals of auxiliaries containing carcinogenic chemicals and hormone disruptors are restricted for use in textile products.

In the last two years or so, things have started to reverse due to organic fashion brands growing bigger and fair trade becoming known to a wider audience. Like with food, people have started to question what their garments are made of and the reason they’re so cheap. This growth in awareness has impacted people’s purchasing decisions. You can now find companies that make bags from recycled PET bottles and even some well-known brands that make shoes from ocean waste.

“Is it really that bad?” you ask. Is pollution so bad that we have to take back what we’ve thrown into our oceans to make clothes? Yes, it is that bad. Although, I noticed that for the first time in 20 years a textile shop in my town has re-opened. Perhaps this could be the beginning of the journey to recovery.

Izabela applies her experience in QA and analysis to develop procedures for medical device assembly and quality control. She has over 10 years’ practical experience in quality assurance and analysis in various industries.

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