Save. Spend. Splurge.

Is your cheap sweater killing you?

Time Magazine “Toxic Clothing“:

In April, Greenpeace purchased 141 items from 20 global fashion brands across 29 countries; these garments had been manufactured in at least 18 different countries.

They tested a collection of jeans, slacks, t-shirts, dresses and underwear, which were all made with both artificial and natural materials.

In doing so, they found high levels of cancer-causing phthalates in four garments, while nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) were found in 89 garments (63 percent of those tested).

You can read the Greenpeace report here.

Brands that were super toxic with chemicals at the highest concentrations above 1000 ppm (parts per million) were:

  • C&A (one sample)
  • Mango (three samples)
  • Levi’s (two samples)
  • Calvin Klein (one sample)
  • Zara (one sample)
  • Metersbonwe (two samples)
  • Jack & Jones (one sample)
  • Marks & Spencer (one sample)

How does this all happen?

Well it’s because of the super fast changes in the fashion world or “fast fashion”, and the disposable nature of trends like those nasty Hammer-like drop crotch pants, neon clothing, cropped tops, or anything that doesn’t become a staple classic over time like skinny jeans.

We buy 4 times as much clothing as we did in 1980.

As a result, retailers pump out hordes of clothes by the tonnes are retailers like H&M, Gap, Bennetton, Zara, Mango, and Forever 21:

[For these retailers, it means a] quick turnaround, short deadlines and, consequently, [they] cut corners that lead to unsafe practices and little oversight that could otherwise decrease use of phtalates and NPEs.

Brands such as these maximize profits by manufacturing for 6-8 fashion seasons as opposed to the traditional 2-4.

Need-it-now customers purchase items from these frequent collections, which inflates the amount of clothing that is both sold and thrown away.

A really fascinating, eye-opening study.

It sure has made me think twice about even entering Zara, GAP, Mango or H&M. I haven’t been in a store since October or bought anything there as of late.

I feel even better about buying secondhand, and not only that, buying higher quality, classic brands and items items that are not likely to cut corners to save money, at the expense of their consumers’ health.

I think Greenpeace says it best:

The reality is, there are no “environmentally acceptable” or “safe” levels of use and discharge for inherently hazardous substances, and the sooner companies eliminate all uses, the better the environmental and health outcomes can be.



  • Tania Ginoza

    Wow, I didn’t realize about the toxicity although I’ve always been conscious about the cheap labor issues. Quite a bit of my clothing is made in the US, accessories from Italy and I prefer my jewelry handmade by Hawaii artisans. There was a time I bought a piece on ebay I thought was See by Chloe from a NYC seller. When it arrived, the sending address was China and it reeked of chemicals even before I got the box open.
    This is why I think minimalism isn’t always and shouldn’t be associated with low prices. We can have less things but be aware of the implications of our purchasing decisions, purchase higher quality longer lasting and locally made items. Personally, for me I get such a thrill when I know about the artist who made a ring or bracelet, it means so much more than grabbing a $5 piece from a fast fashion sale.
    Much of the younger generation has no concept of origin too. I’ve seen online reviews where they compare a Stylemint T (made in the US) to F21 and go on and on about how their F21 T is better because it’s cheaper with no clue or concern that F21 likely ripped off the design and used cheap labor to make those tops.

    • mochiandmacarons


      I was thinking about this the other day when I wondered why the heck I would pay $30 for a pair of leggings made in Canada rather than $10 for cheap ones made in China.

      It all comes down to trust. I cannot trust other countries with their own managers to be as conscientious as countries that have governmental bodies ruling (however inefficient they may be), to do the right thing without regard to bonuses, profits, etc.

      Even in our own countries, we have problems with all of that — shady practices, but it never reaches to the level I’ve seen of goods coming mainly out of China.

      Few examples:
      1. Tapioca balls (boba) in those milk tea drinks – in Germany they found traces of arsenic. Say what you want “it’s just ONE manufacturer”, but if even ONE can skirt by, what about the rest?

      2. Dollar store smells — as you mentioned, the chemicals coming out give me a headache. I can’t even walk into those stores, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t just a plastic smell, it’s all the chemicals they use to process items cheaply.

      Lower labour or not, I feel better paying $30 for 1 pair of good leggings I know are made in Canada (, and are following BASIC rules on how to manufacture items, made with proper wages for the work, than buying 3 pairs of cheap Chinese leggings for the same price.

  • Janine

    Ugh. This sort of stuff really stresses me the eff out.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      It’s actually better for me. I just don’t go to those shops any more, and it saves me on wasting money, AND helps me stay as fast-fashion-toxic-free as possible.

      Overkill maybe, but still something to consider. Especially now that I’m on a second-hand clothing thing.

  • tomatoketchup

    If I recall correctly, I think Patagonia is one of the more environmentally friendlier clothing companies. I have several pieces of clothing from patagonia, and while a bit expensive up front, the stuff is built like a tank and lasts quite a while.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Thanks for the tip! I’ll put them on my list.

      This is getting tricky even buying CLOTHES now. I wish there was something out there to let us know what companies do what.

    • Brittany

      It’s funny that Patagonia is mentioned because I was just going to post about them! I recently took a sweater to get mended because I realized a moth had done quite a bit of damage to it; however, none of the other sweaters in my sweater drawer (from SmartWool and Ibex) were touched. My tailor was able to fix all of the holes and asked me if any of the other sweaters in the drawer were eaten and when I told her no she wondered out loud if perhaps Patagonia used better quality wool or perhaps wasn’t treated with anything and so moths were drawn to it. I thought it was so interesting and now I’m just seeing this post! So perhaps it really is better quality?

  • Mochi & Macarons

    I’m leaning heavily towards buying used now.

  • C.

    This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m trying to clean out my closet and start slowly building a wardrobe with fewer, higher quality items. The difficulty is finding places to buy ethically made clothing – including being environmentally friendly and having good labor practices. If you know of any good sources that rate different stores/brands, I would love to know! I’m going to take a look at the Greenpeace report you posted, too.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      I wish I knew which brands were good. H&M apparently is TRYING, but trying doesn’t mean they’re 100%-toxic-proof.

      It did say that it’s mostly applicable to fast fashion and VERY cheap clothes, where they have 6-7 seasons in a year rather than 2-4. They have to pump out a lot more, for a lot less money, which leads them to use toxic chemicals.

      My best guess is those fast fashion stores like H&M, F21, Zara, Mango, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, The Gap.. should all be avoided.

      They said to buy used, buy local, buy less, and to ask a lot of questions about what you are buying.

      What also worries me is even if we pay more, or buy from nicer/higher-end/designer brands, there’s NO guarantee they’ll be any better. They could just as well be doing the same thing, getting way more money, and possibly buying sourced fabric from China or other countries to make the clothing, which amounts to the same thing.

      I think Stella McCartney is quite aware of this environmental impact as a designer, so perhaps she may be the only “safe” one out there that I can think of.

      Anne also made a note about RevolutionApparel.Is above.

      I’d also wager that anything from Sweden where they have strict laws (read the report), it seemed to have less of an instance of toxic chemicals in their clothing purchased there. Perhaps Sweden has laws already in place.
      I wish we could find out more about this, but I’ll do more research.

      • MelD

        H&M is Swedish…

        • Mochi & Macarons

          But they are in fast fashion, and aren’t independents.

          Green peace says they’re a company that is actually trying to do better but their clothes are still being produced with fabrics processed in China.

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