We would like to share with you this blog post which was written by our lovely guest blogger Jeanette Hewer.
It’s that time of year again. Feet are frantically being measured, new uniforms bought, items labelled, and parents up and down the country are thanking their lucky stars that iron on labels have been invented. The end of summer is nigh and everyone is preparing to go back to school.
The school uniform business is huge for retailers. Gone are the days when uniforms were expensive. Nowadays retailers compete to dress our children at an amazing price. For just £2 you can buy your child’s school sweatshirt at Asda, and at Tesco’s F&F a packet of 2 polo shirts will set you back a mere £2.50. But at what cost?
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building over 2 years ago, revealed one cost of cheap clothing as corners were cut and the safety of the workers severely compromised leading to many deaths and injuries. That was the reason I recently challenged Tesco’s F&F about working conditions in their Bangladesh factories, where many items of school uniform are made. Whilst it was great that Tesco were prepared to be transparent, I certainly wasn’t aware of the dangerous chemicals used in production of school clothing and what effect they could be having on our children.
Garments that are “easy iron” or “stain resistant” sound great; they are convenient and make our busy lives just that little bit easier. But do you know what dangerous chemicals are used to achieve this effect? Also did you know the synthetic fabrics used to make uniforms, such as polyester and polycotton, are actually made using chemicals?
The Science Class
“Non Iron or Easy Iron” – To make a garment easy or non iron, a group of chemicals called PFCs (Perfluorinated Chemicals) are added. One you are probably familiar with is called Teflon. The US Environmental Protection Agency has made warnings about the link between these chemicals and forms of cancer, usually occurring in the pancreas, liver, human prostate and bladder.
“Stain resistant or Fire Retardant” – PBDE (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are used to make a garment stain resistant and fire retardant. The problem with these chemicals? They are highly toxic due to their bioaccumulation in every living organism. According to medical research, their effects in humans are irreversible. The most common health problem is thyroid related (hormones!) but they have also been shown to be detrimental in a child’s brain development.
Synthetic Fabrics – Did you know that polyester and polycotton, fabrics often used to make school trousers and skirts, are a derivative of crude oil and plastic and in their creation petrochemicals are used? These are incredibly harmful to the environment, it has been claimed that the creation of polyesters and nylons emits greenhouse gases at a rate of more than 300x that of carbon dioxide. Also, these fabrics are known to aggravate skin conditions prevalent in children such as eczema as the fabrics trap heat and don’t allow your skin to breathe.
So the good news is that the EU ensures that all textile and garment manufacturers follow a set of regulations that restrict the amount of chemicals used. This is known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation,Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals). It all sounds reassuring, but just think our children wear their school uniform for an average of 35 hours a week, so more often than any other garment. Approximately 600 different chemicals are used in textile production, and though individual amounts are regulated, we are not clear what the cumulative effects are of lots of different toxic chemicals.
A few suggestions.
- Wash all garments before your child wears them, and if it’s made of a synthetic fabric (think chemicals!) wash it at least three times before it is worn.
- Buy 2nd hand clothing, it’s good for our environment, will have been washed many many times and has the added benefit of saving you money.
- Where possible buy organic clothes; this way you know they haven’t been in contact with any dangerous chemicals.
IMAGE USED WITH PERMISSION OF ECOOUTFITTERS
Two mums thought that it was bonkers that their children wore lovely clothes made of natural fabrics during the weekend but the majority of their time was spent wearing cheap synthetic school uniforms, so EcoOutfitters was born. They are a school clothing company with nothing to hide. All their clothes are ethically produced, eco-friendly and made from 100% organic cotton which means they have no toxins on them. No cheap polyester, no harmful Teflon coatings. The company is certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) which guarantees that the supply chain from field to final product meets rigorous environmental and social standards. These are school clothes that allow our children’s skin to breathe without the risk of aggravating allergies or doing harm to them.
The factual information for this article was from the following resources:
Photos by Jeanette Hewer and EcoOutfitters