You Are What You Wear

By Dr Ernst
January 17, 2018

I was watching John Oliver–perhaps one of the most entertaining AND informative personalities in media today–and he had an episode on clothing. Watch it here if you’re interested. Highly recommend.

But while the episode isn’t necessarily about clothing as it relates to health or the environment, it definitely got me thinking. You are what you wear.

Here are some shocking facts and crazy stories about clothes:

  • The clothing industry is the second biggest polluter in the world. 20% of all freshwater pollution and 10% of the atmospheric pollution on the planet comes from clothing manufacturing.
  • In early 2017, a new crop of uniforms for American Airlines made 3,000 flight attendants very sick from a combination of mold and chemicals used to treat mold.
  • It takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans
  • 24 percent of the insecticides and 11 percent of the pesticides used in the world are used for cotton. This is despite cotton only using 2.5% of the world’s farmland.
  • Some of the world’s most dangerous carcinogens are used in the production of probably every item of clothing you own, such as glyphosate, chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, carcinogenic solvents called VOCs, carcinogenic chemicals used to make things water resistant called PFCs, flame retardants, ammonia, toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium, and colorings for dye and fabric called phthalates.
  • The dyes in clothing have been linked to rising estrogen levels in men, higher infertility in both men and women and miscarriages.

Not to mention, there are serious ethical considerations for the types of clothes you purchase. As the healthy, sustainable textile advocacy group, Care What You Wear, states on the front page of their website:

“Every time you buy a new article of clothing your purchase has a ripple effect on the environment. The global apparel industry is the second-largest industrial polluter. From the growing of GMO cotton, to the production of wool and synthetic fibers, to the dyes used on those fibers, to the factories where clothes are assembled—each step of the way, soil is degraded, water is polluted, laborers are exploited.”

But we find ourselves again where we were when we learned about the dangers of the modern food industry. There’s a rabbit hole out there you could go down and spend hours, days and weeks biting your nails and trying to ward off the anxiety as you look in horror at your wardrobe.

Just skip all that and start fresh, today, as a responsible clothing consumer. Here’s how you do that.

  • Here is a great list of widely-available, often affordable, ethically manufactured, ecologically-sound and organic clothing companies.
  • Look into bamboo clothing. Here is a great example. Bamboo makes comfortable, breathable fabric and it’s the sort of plant that grows so easily (it can become a serious pest in not controlled) that pesticides and herbicides are completely unnecessary.
  • If you want cotton clothing, do your research. Organic cotton grown in the U.S. is well-regulated, meaning you can be relatively confident it isn’t covered with dangerous chemicals. Also, as the U.S. is a Western nation that grows cotton, more stringent labor laws help to ensure labor and supply chain ethics are sound.
  • Think beyond seasonal clothing. The concept of “fast fashion” has created a culture where we buy new clothing every three months and then toss it. This is not only wasteful and damaging to the environment, it encouraged clothing manufacturers and retailers to focus on quantity over quality, which then leads to cutting corners in ways that affect health and wellness.

The more the world becomes a highly-integrated, hyper-consumerist singular society, the more we have to realize that our health exists in a holistic framework that not only includes our diet and exercise, but als the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit upon, the air we breathe, the people we associate with and nearly every facet of our lives.

This is not to say we should live in constant fear and paranoia. For one, it’s better to be happy than fearful. And for two, there is no avoiding toxins altogether–and that’s fine. You simply have to do your best and make sure your detoxification pathways are bolstered with a healthy microbiome, a clean diet and moderate exercise.

That being said, consider what you’re wearing while you’re at it.

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