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Friendly Fabrics for Toxic-Free Fashion

Clothing in StoreIn 1881, the Rational Dress Society challenged the fashion industry of its day. The Society protested against dress that "either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure health." Seeking to do away with constricting and deforming garments such as corsets, the Society sought to insure each person would be "dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully."

How are we doing today when it comes to our health and fashion? Our modern clothing industry is a $7 trillion enterprise utilizing more than 8,000 synthetic chemicals. Are we sacrificing our health in the name of fashion yet again?

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, synthetic fibers pose such fire and burn hazards that Marines based in Iraq are prohibited from wearing synthetic clothing while off base.

The environmental watchdog group Greenpeace International released Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up in 2012. After purchasing 141 items of clothing from 29 countries, Greenpeace noted the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).

All of the brands included in this study had one or more products that contained detectable levels of NPEs. They were also detected in one or more products from 13 of the 18 countries of manufacture, and also in products sold in 25 out of the 29 countries and regions of sale.

Clothing manufacturers like H&M, The Limited, and Levi Strauss have promised to eliminate these chemicals in response to the Greenpeace report.

Where does this leave us when it comes to our clothing purchases? Many organizations are encouraging a return to natural fabrics.

In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly initiated the International Year of Natural Fibres. Highlighting the health benefits of natural textiles, the initiative emphasized the breathability of non-synthetic fabrics.

Natural fibre textiles absorb perspiration and release it into the air, a process called "wicking" that creates natural ventilation. Because of their more compact molecular structure, synthetic fibres cannot capture air and "breathe" in the same way.

Clothing LabelWhen looking at your wardrobe, note that only three items are required on labels: fiber content, country of origin, and manufacturer or dealer. Specific chemicals such as formaldehyde, triclosan, and fire retardants need not be disclosed. Factory conditions are not mentioned either. Are the workers being treated fairly? The Fair Trade Certified Apparel program is the first of its kind offering consumers an opportunity to consider the social, economic, and environmental impact of their shopping decisions.

The following chart may be helpful when reading clothing labels.























When trying to avoid synthetic chemicals, be aware that the following types of clothing indicate a higher use of chemicals such as formaldehyde, triclosan, and nanoparticles:

  • Wrinkle-free
  • Easy Care
  • Waterproof
  • Perspiration-proof
  • Moth-proof
  • Antistatic
  • Chlorine-resistant

Dozens of manufacturers now produce safe, organic, natural clothing. A few of them are listed below.




Adults and Children

Groups and Organizations that Promote Safe Clothing


"The entire time we lived in our (mold-infested) house the kitchen sponge would get musty smelling within 3-4 days. It was so strange. I had to buy a pack of sponges nearly every week."

– Anonymous

"I had been struggling with headaches, head fog, breathing difficulties (unable to get a full breath), constant scalp tingling, migraines, nausea, feeling spacey/detached, and severe itchy skin."

– Anonymous

"We all suffered from headaches, hormonal body temperature fluctuations, brain fog, fatigue, difficulty breathing, thrush, rashes, and yeast infections... we vacated our home two weeks ago."

– Anonymous

"I was skeptical at first that these (natural cleaning) products would work, but they work better than the stuff I buy at the store! We will soon be moving to the personal care products as well!"

– Jennifer

"In my moldy home if I left the wet clothes in the washer they would get musty very quickly and I'd have to re-wash... Sometimes I'd run a load, go to work, and they'd be musty when I returned that evening."

– Anonymous

"I have been sick for almost 6 months now and doctors were not able to figure out why. I finally put it all together after going away for vacation for a week and suddenly my symptoms were going away."

– Anonymous

"My daughter has had many blood samples taken to test for everything imaginable and her doctor just seems puzzled. Everything comes back normal."

– Anonymous

"My daughter started having digestive problems... heart palpitations... coughing episodes... muscle/joint pain... asthma/allergies... Her doctor finally advised me to check for mold in our home."

– Anonymous

"I knew it was mold, but doctors kept telling me I had anxiety. I was sitting in my office and could not remember who I was talking to, or what we were talking about."

– Brenda

" age 35 or 36 I started to become allergic to everything, and I got asthma at age 36... I went to doctor after doctor after doctor and was desperate for help, but nobody could help me."

– Mia

"I started finding myself sitting on the floor in rooms of my house and not remembering how I got there, what I was doing before, or how long I had been there."

– Brenda

"Both of my sons went downhill quickly and coughed for months... They both lost their ability to read, had profound vision disturbances, and had phenomenal gastric issues."

– Lee

"I've been living in a mold-infested home for 13 months... I was going CRAZY! Finally figured it out... Just a few days of recovering in a mold-free home and I feel AMAZING!!!"

– Lauren

"The ERMI mold test as well as your helpful articles and Toxic Talk Tuesday programs have helped us avoid a terrible mistake in purchasing a new home."

– Angela

"We were having a lot of health problems and had been to the doctor countless times... we had large circles of slimy greenish-black mold on the bathroom ceiling, where it had caved in a few months before."

– C.

"My symptoms persisted and eventually turned into lethargy and depression. At the age of 26, I required a nap every evening after work."

– Jennifer

"I'm new at this, but today I cleaned my bathroom with baking soda and vinegar. It's much better not having those strong chemical smells afterwards."

– Anonymous

"Our family has been out of our home for 9 months due to mold... I am so scared and weak from all of this. We have lost friends; family members don't understand."

– Anonymous

"We had some water leaks in our home... we never thought we needed to clean out and remove the floor, the ceiling, or the drywall... my two small children and I have remained constantly sick for years in this home."

– Mia

This site is dedicated to a true friend and mother — Barbara Dell Kessel (1929-2009)