Fashion Industry Problems: How Fast Fashion Is Making You Go Broke

Fashion Industry Problems: How Fast Fashion Is Making You Go Broke

Fashion Industry Problems: Why Fast Fashion Is Making You Broke, World Threads Traveler, Cait Bagby, Sustainable Fashion


Talking about personal finances is right up there with politics and religion when it comes to acceptable topics to talk about at the dinner table. In the past few years the barriers surrounding politics and religion seem to have weakened but finances – still a bit too uncomfortable to discuss with those close to us. Thankfully finance gurus such as Dave Ramsey and online sharing communities where individuals can post somewhat anonymously, retaining the specifics and whole picture even if their name is out there, have helped many of us pay more attention to our money troubles. Do we have a financial plan for retirement? Are we putting enough money into savings? Could we afford our children’s education? These questions nag at so many of us and keep us up late at night with a mixture of worry and hopelessness.

What is the most common financial advice we hear from gurus and forums alike? Remove any debt and cut out non-essential items. Forgo those daily lattes or cancel your subscription services to Netflix or Pandora. Whatever you do just make sure you are saving for the future. But there’s one thing almost no one is talking about when it comes to your finances because it may not seem obvious: your closet. The fast fashion industry problems are many but could it also be making you broke?

The State of Our Finances

According to a 2018 study by Northwestern Mutual twenty-one percent of Americans have nothing saved for their retirement. An additional third of Americans have less than $5,000 in savings. With dwindling social security and the current state of politics, younger generations are doubting they can rely on that as a source of income in their older years. With all that said, it’s no wonder that individuals are turning to financial gurus and online platforms in panic to sort out their financial predicaments.

Where is our money going? Housing, transportation, and food take the top three spots closely followed by personal insurance and healthcare. After that things get a bit murkier with money going towards personal indulgences such as beauty, entertainment, alcohol, and of course clothing and apparel. While many of these costs can’t be avoided – only minimized – the fashion industries problems are leading us to some unhealthy spending habits.

What are the Fashion Industry Problems that are making you broke?

Spending on Disposable Clothing

Data suggests that American families spend on average $1,803 a year on clothing and apparel. Along with the purchase on new items this includes laundromats, dry cleaning, and tailoring. How many of those purchases are actually put to good use? “More than 50% of women claim 25% of their wardrobe sits in the closet collecting dust. This equates to around $600 thrown out the window.” What’s more is that 73% of women say they update around 25% of their closet every 3 months. That is more than money being simply thrown out the window. This is the equivalent of burning your paycheck before its ever deposited.

In the era of fast fashion, we have been told by brands and advertisers that clothing can, should be, and is disposable. It’s this mentality and attitude that since the 1980’s has led us on an environmental and social decline. A recent article in the Guardian outlined our obsession with wearing items only once which was most notably showcased around the holidays when 3.5 billion pounds were spent on Christmas party clothing. Many of these items will end up in landfills shortly after their intended one wear comes to an abrupt end once the holiday parties wind down. It’s this approach to fashion – especially fast fashion – that is drying up our bank accounts without us even noticing.

Due to the nature of fast fashion – low price, micro seasons, and advertising which tells us our clothing is already out of “trend” the week after we bought it – we end up spending more on clothing than we did just a few decades ago. While a T-shirt may be cheaper than a latte these days, it’s adding up even quicker.

Health Costs

I’ve talked a bit about the hidden health risks of cheap clothing and with medical insurance being unpredictable in the US market many families fear any kind of medical emergency will bankrupt them. A Chicago Tribune article found that “25 percent of Americans have less than $100 in savings for medical expenses, and nearly half have less than $1,00 saved”

No one ever wants to be put into the position of deciding between a hospital visit which could mean going broke or saving money but letting health decline. Chemical compounds in clothing could be adding to these health risks. While, it is advisable to create an emergency fund to deal with the unexpected, cutting down on potential health risks such as skin absorption of formaldehyde which is leached from fabrics, can help to maintain good health. With many chemical compounds unregulated and commonly found in cheap clothing it is wise to choose brands that use natural fabrics and dyes. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.

Taxes through garbage collection and disposal

If we’re not paying the price of fast fashion upfront with a five-dollar purchase here and a ten-dollar purchase there which is slowly draining our accounts, then we are certainly paying for it on the other end. In the United States 85 percent of the 25 billion pounds of textiles discarded each year end up in landfills. That works out to approximately 21 billion pounds per year.

Forty-five dollars is the estimated cost per ton your local municipality pays to have this waste sent to landfills. In NYC that worked out to be roughly $20.6 million annually in 2016.” Monies for the removal and disposal of textile waste is raised through taxes. Your hard earned dollars are being taken out of your paycheck and to state taxes to dispose of your shopping habit. This is the same as throwing a portion of our paychecks right into the trash. Do we really want our hard earned paychecks being spent on clothing we will wear maybe once, if at all, and then on garbage disposal? I would imagine many of us could think of better uses for that money.

How to change your shopping habits and save yourself some money

One of the biggest myths surrounding sustainable fashion is that it costs more. After looking at how much we spend on fast fashion and the cleanup effort, a small upfront increase for an eco-friendly sweater might not look so bad, especially if keeping in mind it’s meant to last a lifetime. How do you move forward knowing that your shopping habits are draining your bank account? Don’t make the fashion industry problems your own. Shop for what you need, only when you need it. Buy items of higher quality that are meant to last. Thrift and swap. Need a new holiday dress but don’t want to spend a lot of money because you might wear it only once – borrow it (ideally from a friend so it won’t cost a penny) or from a clothing rental company. Look at your clothing and apparel as an investment just like your bank account. With a few changes in spending habits you can not only get your finances under control but go on to create a timeless wardrobe that is truly yours. Don’t let your shopping habits and the fast fashion industry advertising giants prevent you from retiring.

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Chemicals In Clothing: The Hidden Dangers

Chemicals In Clothing: The Hidden Dangers

Chemicals in Clothing: The Hidden Dangers & Why We Should Be Paying Attention to What We Wear / World Threads Traveler


The topic of chemicals is a heavy one to unpack. There are so many different rabbit holes one could pursue. But, increasingly consumers are paying attention to the topic so it’s worth discussing, especially when it comes to chemicals in clothing.

Without question the discovery and utilization of natural and synthetic chemicals have helped shape modern society. The term “chemical-free” is meant to assure us our products are natural and organic but there is no such thing as “chemical-free” and our clothing in no exception (everything we interact with is a chemical compound). Concern is required when distinguishing between useful and harmful, necessary and unnecessary additives. And, when discussing chemicals in clothing we need to focus on the synthetics which are an add-on such a dyes, wrinkle, water and odor-resistant. Then there are the synthetic materials.

Chemicals in clothing start with the materials in both natural and synthetic fabrics. Whether it is cotton being grown or plastic being produced to create nylon, many natural fibers (unless certified organic) are grown with the help of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Even those certified organic don’t mean there are no chemical additives to aid in the fiber growth. Many synthetic chemicals are used around the world in products labeled “organic” as they are subject to local governmental and international regulations. (Sustainable Fashion Certifications)

Why are chemicals in clothing a problem?

Skin is the largest organ in the body. We know what goes into our bodies matter but what goes on it matters just as much. The Green Beauty movement has been growing because studies show us that chemicals in our skincare and makeup products can and do get absorbed into our skin. The same is very much true of our clothing. When these chemicals are absorbed into our skin they find their way into our blood steam with direct access to all internal organs. And, while we do excrete some of these chemicals through our pores, with new ones constantly introduced through direct contact with our daily wears, our bodies aren’t able to properly cleanse.

Impact to the Wearer

The range of side effects run from dermatitis to endocrine disruption to cancer. Different chemicals in clothing affect different organs in our bodies and while scientific study is scarce several of the chemicals used have clearly noted side effects. Formaldehyde is one of the biggest offenders. While many countries restrict the use of it the United States is not one of them and China is one of worst. Formaldehyde has been linked to an increase in lung cancer, difficulty breathing, itchy eyes, nose and throat among other side effects. Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) are known to disrupt the endocrine system and affect fertility. It seems that for each garment solution found (wrinkle free, water repellant etc) the associated list of side effects only increases.

Impact on the Environment

Using chemicals in the production of clothing not only effects the wearer but also the environment. At the current volume clothing is produced and the heavy reliance on synthetics and chemicals, water and air pollution have been a common concern. Without strict regulations in many countries where most clothing is produced it is not unheard of for manufacturing plants to dump their waste water into local waterways, contaminating local livelihoods but also the larger global community. (You can read more about the environmental impact in “The Dangers of Fast Fashion”)

Harmful Chemicals in Clothing to Watch Out For

There are a few chemicals which have been verified as carrying significant dangers to both the wearer and the environment. (Original article written for Mochni. You can read the rest at Toxic Fabrics: Are We Ignoring the Largest Organ In Our Body)


This commonly seen word is a group of chemicals used to make plastic and vinyl more flexible but can also be used to make some items softer. For clothing Phthalates are mainly used for plastisol printings – think t-shirts with images on the front. There has been a call to limit or eliminate their usage due to its known prosperities leading to endocrine disruption which could cause birth defects or contribute to breast cancer. The good news about Phthalates is that they are biodegradable but prolonged exposure could mean bad news especially when rubbing on your skin.

Alkyphenols (APEO’s)

This group of chemicals is used for wetting, emulsifying, detergent, printing, and softening. The EPA has noted a rise of Alkyphenols in US water systems as a result of washing them from our clothing. The good news is a Green Peace study found that washing our clothing can help reduce the amount of APEO’s on our clothing. The not so good news is that it can lead to skin and respiratory problems and act as an endocrine disruptor. The other downside is the life cycle. Indicators show a long term continued environmental contamination. They are slow to biodegrade and as they degrade produce byproducts that have a higher toxicity.

AZO Dyes

Are just that: dyes – used in clothing. Some of these compounds, mostly the benzidine-based chemical, are considered carcinogens. This is largely due to the aromatic amines that are produced upon breaking down. They are already banned in Europe but countries in Asia where large scale production occurs often do not have regulations concerning Azo dyes. They can easily rub off on your skin – ever worn a pair of blue jeans that leaves your legs blue? When this rubbing occurs the aromatic amines, some of which reportedly cause cancer, are released. Respiratory and dermatitis problems have also been reported along with high levels of sickness among factory workers.


If you see an item of clothing touting wrinkle free, chances are it has been treated with formaldehyde. Also used to prevent mold and mildew during shipping this chemical can cause contact dermatitis along with nausea, coughing, burning eyes, nose, and throat. It has also been linked to cancer in test environments among rats.

Tips to Steer Clear of Chemicals in Clothing

Look for Natural Fibers

Synthetics carry a heavier harmful chemical load as it requires more to produce the fibers. Opt for organic natural fibers such as cotton, linen, jute, silk, and hemp. Avoid clothing labeled as wrinkle, stain, odor, or water resistant. These are all chemical additives.

Natural Dyes

Choose items that focus on natural dyes or non AZO dyes. If no information is given opt for pieces that are lighter in color. The darker the color the more dye that is required to achieve that look.

Wash Before Wear

Dermatologists recommend washing any garments before wearing. This helps to eliminate surface chemicals used during the shipping process to help prevent mold, staining, or other incidents which may occur during transit. Washing also helps to reduce the chance of contact dermatitis.

Check But Verify

Not all companies are straightforward with what is being used in their textile manufacturing. Make sure you check the labels and brand pages. But, be weary that many companies do not publish this information as in many countries, including the USA, it is not mandatory as noted by Emma Loewe: How Worried Should You Be About Chemicals In Your Clothes

“The Federal Trade Commission asks U.S. clothing retailers to share only fiber content, country of origin, and the identity of the manufacturer on labels. They are not required to disclose any of the chemicals used in the production process, even though by some estimates there are upward of 250 “restricted substances” used in textile manufacturing that pose potential health concerns.”

Look for independent certifications and verifications, Sustainable Fashion Certifications, to ensure your garments are chemical free.


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