Retailers continue to put consumers at risk by cutting corners

Oct 22, 2021 | Et Cetera, Life

Chemicals used in the fashion industry to manufacture clothing can have damaging health risks for consumers.

“We have clothes produced with toxic smells and with chemicals that come into contact with our skin, we get rashes and wonder why our skin is dry or irritated,” said Rossie Kadiyska, the co-ordinator of Fashion Arts and Business program at Humber College.

Kadiyska said companies use synthetic materials as a cheaper alternative to natural materials. Synthetics are prone to fire and companies need to infuse chemicals to withstand the environment during long transportation times.

“When you go to different stores you notice there is a very distinct smell that you get from the chemicals, that gets into our lungs, and those chemicals are known to cause cancer,” she said.

A recent study by Professor Miriam Diamond of U of T’s Department of Earth and Sciences, found 38 samples of clothing from one retailer exceeded the lead limit for children set by Health Canada by almost 20 per cent.

Factories source cheap materials and pay their employees inadequately, cutting dangerous corners to make fashion cheaper for consumers.

“It’s kind of ridiculous now to think that you actually pay for a T-shirt (at the same price) you pay for a sandwich,” said Kennedy Berchard, a Fashion Arts and Business student at Humber college Lakeshore.

During the pandemic, online shopping has increased and young people may not realize what the clothing they order is made with.

According to research conducted by Health Canada on Risk management Strategy for Lead and research conducted by Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease, lead is a natural element used in textile dye pigments can cause severe damage to the heart, kidney, and reproductive systems.

“We, as a healthy and wealthy country, need to be protecting everyone involved,” Diamond said. “If the final product isn’t safe for me, it’s definitely not safe for the workers handling the chemicals.”

Diamond said there are safer alternatives factories can use for textile dye pigments like natural dyes obtained from plants or mineral compounds. Another safe alternative is fibre-reactive dyes, which do not contain toxic chemicals and have a high absorption rate to reduce wasting water.

“Before I stopped buying from these types of retailers because of ethical considerations, I knew that one thing you have to do is wash your clothing with solutions that will strip the chemicals before wearing them from the store,” Kadiyska said.

Along with clothing, bed linen, tea towels, and certain tablecloths can be stripped from their chemicals before using them.