Sustainability and Care: How Garment Care Affects the Environment

From the desk of Dyana Harrison, Fashion Design Department Head:
The effects of caring for our garments are currently leaving an imprint on both the health of our environment as well as the everyday individual. Sustainability by definition is “the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely.” I encourage that our own lives and health be treated in the same regard. Today, laundering alone takes up as much as three-quarters of the energy used in textiles such as cotton. If these garments are cleaned at dry cleaners, there is the reminder every time you pick up your laundry that you’ll be spending the next week tossing out those mismatched wire hangers as you take your clothes off of them to wear. 3.5 billion dry cleaner’s hangers are ending up in landfills each year.


As we act in detriment to our environment by simply carrying out our weekly tasks, we now need to add our personal health to the list of things affected. Some dry cleaning solvents are linked to cancer and to the contamination of water systems. In addition, our skin is a live organ soaking up its surroundings. After we wash our clothes in fragrant-laden detergent, we insist on drying them with dryer sheets which, according to The Brain Wash, are packed full of toxic ingredients such as Chloroform, Camphor and 5 other carcinogens that attack our nervous system resulting in various brain diseases, not just cancer.
If we continue to live in an era of convenience, free of fear of the consequences regarding our OWN BODIES, it is nearly impossible to get in a mindset of needing to treat our planet the same way. And when we do care enough to purchase the “Organic” laundry detergent, it is made from palm oil derivatives resulting in palm tree plantations and the destruction of rainforests in South Asia. I came across a quote that talked about the author’s feelings on sustainability when, for example, recycling is only but a small battle being fought in a great war; she said, “What is it we are trying to sustain? A living planet, or an industrial civilization?” Because we can’t have both.” While I agree with her frustrations and concerns that we have lived in neglect for far too long, I do appreciate the countless efforts in place to better our world, because if we are not working towards something ahead, we are not living for a reason at all.



Currently, large retailers are working to discontinue detergents with “chemicals of concern” and detergent manufacturers are developing products that will lessen their negative effect on our ecosystem, while companies are beginning to mandate that 99 percent of ingredients be biodegradable. I believe we are waking up and understanding the damage we’ve done and for every step in the direction of biodegradable and nontoxic to aquatic life, we are walking in a wave of change. It starts with you and your body, then the clothes on your back, the products in your household and continues outward. Work, live, and care from a committed place within and watch it gain momentum.