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Blink 3 of 8 - The 5 AM Club
by Robin Sharma
How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sick
To Dye For by Alden Wicker is a captivating exploration of the fashion industry's environmental impact. It uncovers the dark side of fashion, offering practical tips for a more sustainable wardrobe.
Mary started coughing one day. She was working as a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines and had just been issued a new uniform. At first, she dismissed her colleagues' complaints about the uniforms causing rashes and other problems. She figured they probably just hated change and wanted something to complain about. But before long, Mary also started to develop burning rashes, while her coworker, John, ended up in the ER with severely compromised breathing.
What neither Mary, nor John, nor any of the other flight attendants knew at the time was that the new outfits, while stylish, contained a toxic mixture of flame retardants and Teflon coatings.
When attendants’ issues became too prevalent to ignore, the airline claimed that the uniforms had been accidentally contaminated by tributyl phosphate, or TBP, an ingredient used in hydraulic fluid. To remedy this, all Alaska did was offer attendants $135 so they could get their uniforms dry cleaned. Never mind that dry cleaning wouldn’t actually get rid of the TBP.
Later, it came out that the truth was rather different from the official story. The TBP had in fact been intentionally added to the uniforms. And it was far from an isolated problem. TBP, it turns out, is often used as a wetting agent and solvent in textile manufacturing. And, as with most chemicals used in textile manufacturing, there’s no official limit on how much TBP can be present on a piece of clothing.
In spite of her worsening condition, Mary continued to wear the uniform. Migraines, stuttering, and memory loss became regular parts of her life. She developed a rash on her chest; her eyes grew red and crusty. And John, for his part, ended up in the ER again, covered with bloody, oozing lesions from his upper back to his ears. Alaska denied that these conditions could have been work-related. Anyone claiming to be experiencing issues from their uniform just had an “individual sensitivity.”
Years passed. During that time, until around 2017, thousands of attendants across many major airlines, including American, Southwest, and Delta, reported acute issues from toxic attire. In every case, little to nothing was done.
What can we learn from these cases? Quite a bit, it turns out. That’s because airline attendants are about as close to a controlled population as you can get. They wear the same uniform pieces every day, and when there’s a change, everyone adopts it at the same time. Since they spend lots of time in tight quarters, their exposure to toxic chemicals in their uniforms can be quite high.
In the general population, exposure levels probably aren’t as high, and reactions are much harder to track. Your wardrobe might contain dozens of items, none of which you wear every single day. So if you’re having medical or psychological problems, how can you know if they are being caused by your underwear, your sweater, or your leggings?
That’s not to say there aren’t convincing anecdotes that come from the general population. Nurse Karly Hiser, for example, noticed her eldest son’s eczema started getting worse when he was two or three years old. She switched her family to fragrance-free soaps and nontoxic cleaning products, but nothing seemed to help. It was only when she desperately sewed him some homemade, organic cotton underwear that her son found some relief.
Karly’s case leads to another concerning point: the effects of toxic fashion on children. Children are potentially even more vulnerable than adults to the chemicals on clothes. Why? Because they spend more time crawling on the ground, breathing in dust and sticking their hands in their mouths.
Children and adults aren’t licking their clothes, of course. But when clothes touch skin, chemicals can rub off onto it. And then dead skin cells – now contaminated with chemicals – enter the air as dust particles, which we then breathe in – or, in the case of a child, lick off of our hands.
How many of us might be breathing in toxic chemicals from the dust in our homes right this very moment?
To Dye For (2023) exposes how the fashion industry harms human health and exploits workers through its use of toxic dyes and lack of supply chain transparency. It delves into the environmental and human costs behind our clothes, while also spotlighting companies innovating health-conscious dyes and production methods. Ultimately, it challenges consumers to make informed choices in order to pressure brands to clean up one of the world’s dirtiest industries.
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Blink 3 of 8 - The 5 AM Club
by Robin Sharma