Fashion Is Destroying the Earth

When you go to a fancy clothing store, you probably don’t think about the process that put that polyester thong-bottom leotard into your hands, but perhaps you should, you selfish shit.

Illustration by Kyle Platts

When you go to a fancy-shmancy clothing store, you probably don’t think about the long process that caused your favorite new polyester thong-bottom leotard—or whatever—to get into your hands, but perhaps you should, you selfish little shit. Chances are the manufacturing of said garment resulted in either deforestation, pollution, a bunch of villagers in India being killed by bulldozers, or all of the above. Makes you feel pretty lousy, huh? To make you feel even worse, here are three of the fashion industry’s most harmful practices.

Cow skin gets transformed into handbags and boots through a process called tanning, the most common type of which involves chromium compounds being sloshed all over the leather before it’s wrung out and dried. Some of these compounds are carcinogens that can cause boo-boos like ulcers, respiratory ailments, and kidney and liver damage. For extra bad vibes, tanneries tend to be clustered in low-income areas, which get turned into chromium dust bowls of misery.

In its natural state, gold is often mixed together with crap like silt and nonprecious ores, so it has to be isolated. One method of isolation often used in small-scale (artisanal) gold mining is mercury amalgamation, which consists of getting gold particles to stick to liquid mercury, then heating the mixture until the mercury vaporizes, leaving only the pay dirt behind. Problem is, mercury is extremely poisonous and if ingested can wreak havoc on your kidneys, heart, and nervous and respiratory systems. Not only is this bad news for workers who inhale the fumes when they’re pumping it into the ground, mercury can also build up in the earth, where it contaminates the entire food chain.

In the late 90s, many cotton farmers in India were convinced (or conned) to switch to growing genetically modified Bt cotton, which, while invulnerable to the troublesome bollworm, proved to be susceptible to numerous other pests. This forced farmers to buy more pesticides to protect their crops, sending them into a downward spiral of debt that has contributed to an epidemic of farmer suicides (200,000 in the past decade alone). Have fun showing off your “totes cute blouse” to your friends, though.