Landscaping a Toxic Free Fashion

Fashion is one of the leading product developing industries of the 21st century. Just like any other industry that produces and distributes mass goods, it seems to overlap with the environment while trying to keep up with consumer demands. Initiatives such as Roadmap to ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) – supported by the Greenpeace Detox Campaign – have raised awareness of the global environmental damages caused by major manufacturing apparel brands. This exposure has now urged companies to ban the use of hazardous chemicals across their supply chain by the year 2020. Because of this widespread ban, the textile market has been trying to source out more sustainable high demand fibres such as organic cotton and dyes that go though eco-friendly processes. This essay will discuss the ways companies are making business decisions that are good for the environment and promote a sustainable alternative in the manufacturing of textiles for fashion goods. This will therefore initiate trends and foresee the image of fashion itself in the future.

Back in November 2011, major apparel brands, stakeholders and retailers teamed up with the ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) initiative, with the ambition of eliminating hazardous chemicals across their supply chain by January 1, 2020. ZDHC has been issuing quarterly joint roadmap reports annually since 2012, which explain the progress on how it is going to make an effort to clean up the supply chain of various companies, by setting new standards of environmental performance for the global apparel and footwear industry. Signatory roadmap brands that have signed up for this legislation include Adidas, C&A, G-star Raw, H&M, Jack Wolfskin, Levi Strauss & Co, Li Ning, Nike and Puma.

A system map was developed to help visualise the programme. It shows the view of the current reality and the goals for 2020. The idea of this roadmap system is very complex. It illustrates the perspective on the interconnected issues and the interconnected stakeholders involved within the manufacturing industry. Retail and chemical suppliers as well as stakeholders are expected to come up with their own action plan that supports the joint roadmap initiative.

Another factor that is crucial for achieving the ZDHC goals is communication. Business communicators within the supply chain have to indicate the transparency of a product, which illustrates its journey through its design development and production process. Production relies on various capital inputs such as the economy, technology, manufacturing, human and social capital (otherwise known as consumers), and natural resources. However, these capital inputs within the production process are responsible for human and environmental health hazards caused by industrial pollution. This is why ZDHC has decided to regulate chemical thresholds and conduct further improvement in chemical management within the manufacturing process. ZDHC aims to phase out and discharge nine out of the eleven priority chemical groups listed in its Joint Roadmap: Toward Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals report published on November 15, 2011. The report highlights chemicals such as Phthalates (ortho-phthalates), which is an acid used typically for the production of plastics. Exposure to this chemical can lead to serious effects on health, and it is known for triggering the spread of cancer.  HYPERLINK “” (accessed February 2013)

Measuring tools that were able to screen out and identify hazardous chemicals made it possible to create databases to inform consumers and raise awareness about toxins found in various products within the fashion industry. The report titled Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch up – published in October 2012 by one of ZDHC’s biggest stakeholders Greenpeace – revealed that there were traces of a variety of hazardous chemicals in clothing made by well-established global fashion brands. Calvin Klein, which is one of the brands that has been under investigation by Greenpeace, was one of their worst offenders, with 88% of its clothing samples testing positive for chemicals such as Phthalates. Since the investigation, the chemicals found in the garments have been classified as highly toxic and are now restricted in all other products manufactured by brands associated with ZDHC.

Tackling ecological and manufacturing issues through specific projects and actions, ZDHC has to acknowledge its ambitions and commitments with its collaborators to overcome the challenges that lie ahead while striving to achieve its goal by 2020. Alternative methods for textile production as well as retailers recognising the importance of sustainable fibres will help support the innovation of a toxic-free future within the global supply chain of fashion manufacturing.

In terms of sustainability, fashion relies on the production of the finishing of its textiles. This involves fibres being manufactured into fabrics. Mass consumerism caused by the modern day hype of “fast fashion” has led to an increase in demand for textiles and fibres. The production of fibre has always had its sustainability issues. Nevertheless, the choice of fibre is what determines its environmental impact.

Cotton production accounts for 75% of the global textile manufacturing industry. It dominates within the apparel area, which therefore makes it a high-demand fibre. The chart of the world’s fibre consumption and the production of spun yarn illustrates the importance of cotton and its continuous demand up until the year 2020. This chart is found in the report titled Trends in Cotton Consumption and Perspectives of Indian Textile Industry 2020, published by S.P Oswal, CMD, Vardhman Group India, ICA Hong Kong, on November 2, 2012.

HYPERLINK “” (accessed February 2013)

Hence, manufacturers need to figure out how much fibre consumers need in order to keep up with the high demand of the growing global population. Just like any other agricultural product, natural fibres such as cotton require cleaning and cultivation. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), growing cotton uses up to 2.6% of the world’s annual water consumption. A single t-shirt made from conventional cotton requires 2,700 litres of water, which in turn often contaminates water supplies.

Huge amounts of pesticides are also required in the production of cotton, which therefore contributes to the planet’s decreasing biodiversity. Farm workers suffer major health risks from being exposed to these toxics chemicals while hand-picking cotton from the fields. This is why organic cotton would be the more suitable choice to support the idea of greener fibre and textile manufacturing.  HYPERLINK “” (accessed March 2013)

Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic fertilizers and pesticides, which therefore has a low environmental impact. According to an article by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) titled Organic Cotton Facts, published in June 2010, the use of genetically engineered seeds for organic farming is strictly prohibited. It also states that third-party certification organisations approve the methods and materials allowed in organic production.  HYPERLINK “” (accessed March 2013)

The global organic cotton market was estimated to amount to up to USD 7.4 billion in 2012. This is attributable to the fact that big retail companies that decided to use organic cotton in their supply chain helped the market surge by 20% from USD 6.2 billion back in 2011.

HYPERLINK “” (accessed March 2013)

Back in March 2012, British designer Katherine Hamnett collaborated with H&M to launch a limited edition of an organic cotton t-shirt collection for its “SAVE THE FUTURE” campaign for Climate Week, supported by the EJF. According to H&M’s Sustainability update press release, published on July 11, 2012, the Swedish retail brand has continued to further increase its already worldwide leading use of organic cotton, which is part of the company’s strategic goal to only use more sustainable cotton by 2020.

HYPERLINK “” (accessed March 2013)

In addition, life-cycle analysis on products that determine the impact of the general principles of environmental conservation has educated consumers to become more eco conscious when purchasing an item. According to the research database, 58% of global consumers would pay more for clothes made of natural fibres.  HYPERLINK “” (accessed March 2013)The exclusivity of the natural fibre has led to recognising the importance of cotton and its role in the textile and apparel industry. Indeed, producing organic cotton would be a more sustainable choice to help conserve the world’s biodiversity and keep up with consumer demand. As the popularity of organic fabrics continues to grow among apparel makers, the use of natural dyes has become noteworthy nowadays as well.

Dyes and chemicals in textile finishing have raised concerns regarding product safety from a health and ecological perspective. The practice of dyeing textiles has been around for thousands of years. Natural sources of colouring would include mineral pigments and vegetable dyes. Due to cost efficiency and a broader selection of colours, conventional synthetic dyes have managed to practically replace the use of natural dyes. Conversely, though, eco-friendly natural dye methods, such as the use of herbs and the innovated technological use of air dye, are gaining a competitive advantage in the textile market. This is attributable to the widespread ban of toxic chemicals in apparel manufacturing supply chains expected by 2020.

The use and production of conventional synthetic dyes contributes to serious environmental consequences by being known as one of the world’s most polluting industries. Contaminated rivers and drinking water sources caused by industrial pollution have also managed to put people’s health at risk.


(accessed March 2013)

An article published on January 11, 2013 in the New York Times titled A Cancer Cycle, From Here to China, by Dan Fagin, reports on about how a river in China had been dangerously contaminated by a 39-ton chemical spill caused by a leak from a factory pipe. The same author is releasing a forthcoming book titled Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, about how a polluted drinking water supply was responsible for triggering cancer in a town in the state of New Jersey back in 1996.

Stories like these are especially alarming because 40,000 to 50,000 tons of dye are being discharged annually by the textile industry and more than 200,000 tons of salt are being released into our rivers. Conventional dyeing also requires 5 to 35 gallons of water for every pound of finished fabric.  HYPERLINK “” (accessed March 2013)

Air dye technology is an innovative eco-friendly dye method that was developed to reduce the amount of water used for its application process. It requires 90% less water and 85% less energy than conventional methods. Incorporating digital printing allows production to be more adaptable by producing either a large or lower-scale quantity of dyed fabrics. This avoids waste since manufacturers are able to produce the amount that is needed. Air dye is able to produce an unlimited colour range just like synthetic dye, but without being a burden on the environment.

HYPERLINK “” (accessed March 2013)

Fashion students from Parson the New School of Design were able to use air dye methods to create final garments for their graduate show back in 2011. Designers such as Costello Tagliapietra have also been able to embrace this colour application method. He presented his air dye collection during the 2012 Spring/Summer Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week.

Another eco-friendly dye method is the use of herbal dye. Herbal dyeing is an ancient practice dating back almost 4,000 years. The dyes at that time were used for art rather than textiles. This particular method is probably one of the most sustainable and ethical methods since no chemical treatments are used while applying colour to the fabric. Unlike air dyes, however, the colour range obtained from herbal sources is rather limited to natural shades of red, brown, yellow, orange and green. On the plus side, herbs provide excellent health benefits because they contain natural medicinal values that have healing effects. Indigo, for example, is a preferred option in the apparel market since it protects the wearer against skin diseases. This is beneficial for manufacturers to consider for the making of an end-product, especially for consumers that suffer from skin irritation cause by allergies from conventional dyes.

(Dyeing as an Art, Fibre Fashion, 2012, pp. 24-26.) is a leading online shop that provides a wide range of natural dye clothing for men and women. These garments look no different than any other regular clothing. The only difference is how they were produced. The herbal textile market has a promising future ahead of it because the demand for low-impact dyes has been increasing due to the popularity of organic clothing among fashion-forward consumers.

Indeed, the future widespread ban of toxic chemicals in industry supply chains set to happen in 2020 has prompted manufacturers, retailers and consumers to become more environmentally cautious. Just like trees, however, landscaping changes within fashion manufacturing will take time to cultivate since the challenges that lie ahead need to be acknowledged in order to achieve a toxic-free future.


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