Your Clothes Are an Agricultural Choice
If you care about what you eat, you should care about what you wear.
Woman holds skeins of wool.
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Every time you acquire an item of clothing, you are making a choice between the biosphere and the lithosphere. The biosphere refers to agricultural production and plants that are transformed into wearable textiles, such as cotton, hemp, linen, and more. The lithosphere is the shell, or crust, of the Earth, from which fossil fuels are extracted and turned into synthetic fabrics like polyester.
"Fashion Is an Agricultural Choice."
First of all: "If much of our clothing originates from the soil, why don’t we interrogate the fashion industry the way we do the agricultural industry?" We don't often think of our clothing as emerging from the dirt, at least not in the way we do vegetables and grains and other foods that we put in our bodies, but they do – and therefore merit the same attention and concern about the practices required to grow and harvest them. We criticize supermarkets and fast food restaurants for their role in driving rainforest deforestation through the consumption of beef, but our fashion choices are guilty of the same. Why don't we talk about the fashion industry's role in illegal deforestation and seizure of land across the Global South, and its connection to serious soil and land contamination and degradation? Most likely because people aren't aware of the connections.
Burgess spoke at length about synthetic dyes, which are used to color most of the textiles we wear. It's estimated that 25% of chemicals produced globally are used to produce clothing, and many of these go toward dyeing. Heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, tin, cobalt, lead, and chrome are needed to bind the dyes to the fabric, and are present in 60-70% of dyes. An array of energy-intensive processes fix the dyes to the fabric ("heat, beat, treat," Burgess said), and vast quantities of water are used to rinse out the surplus dye.