5 things to avoid in school uniforms this “Back to School” season:
“All day I sit and make school uniforms for foreign children. It makes me feel so sad that I can’t afford to send my own children to school, because I want a better life for them than the one I have.”
Sirin Ankar, a 24-year-old garment worker and young mother, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Polyester – traps the heat, doesn’t allow the skin to breath
Most school clothes are made from either a polycotton mix or plain polyester. Polyester (PET) is a plastic – it’s a compound in a group of petroleum-derived substances called ‘polymers’, which come from crude oil – and is made up of an assortment of ingredients, including both gasoline and polyethylene. These sorts of materials aren’t sweat absorbent, and they don’t allow the skin to breathe properly, trapping heat which can trigger rashes and cause or aggravate skin conditions such as eczema. They aren’t very comfortable against the skin either.
Stain resistant/wrinkle resistant coatings – these can get absorbed into the child’s blood stream via the skin
Many of the Teflon-like stain-resistant and wrinkle free coatings on school clothes have been classified as probable cancer-causative agents by the EPA. A study in 1977 by chemists Arlene Blum and Bruce Ames at the University of California, Berkeley, took morning urine samples from ten children who wore polyester pyjamas treated with a fire retardant coating the night before, and the substance was found to be present in the urine of all ten children after being absorbed from the pyjamas via the skin. The more these sorts of clothes are worn and washed, the higher the chance of chemicals migrating from the fabric and becoming particles that can be inhaled by children or absorbed into the bloodstream via contact with the child’s skin.
Non-organic cotton – uses more pesticides than any other single major crop
While the perception of cotton is as a soft, pure, and natural fabric, that’s only true of 100% organic cotton. The reality is that non-organic cotton is widely considered to be the world’s most environmentally unfriendly crop. It is a huge water waster, with 20,000 litres needed to produce one kilogram of conventional cotton, and uses more pesticides and fertiliser than any other area of agricultural production These chemicals alter the river’s nutrient system and ecosystem, and lead to the pollution of rivers, lakes, wetlands and the air. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, seven out of the 15 most carcinogenic chemicals known to man are used to produce cotton, which is obviously terrible news not only for fish, bird, animal and insect life, but also for field and factory workers.
Non-organic colour dyes – they may aggravate eczema and other skin conditions to flair up
The dye on a finished garment, by it’s nature, is chemically stable – that’s what makes a dye color fast. However, research had emerged that examined the short and long term effects of potential skin absorption of dye and finishing chemicals through clothing. The CNN report October 2007, revealed that new testing procedures (chemical burden testing) showed that young babies and children actually do have increased levels of chemicals in their bloodstream and skin. Because clothing comes into prolonged contact with one’s skin, toxic chemicals are often absorbed into the skin, especially when one’s body is warm and skin pores have opened to allow perspiration. We also know that some individuals have what is known as chemical sensitivity, including when exposed to garments of many types.
Ultra low price – someone, somewhere may not be treated fairly
A report by ActionAid4 heavily criticised some of the supermarket and high street chains for the hidden cost that their cheap schoolwear is having on the lives of women workers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, saying that in order to sell uniforms at such low prices, supermarkets were putting pressure on their suppliers to cut costs and turn orders around quickly, which contributed to low wages and poor conditions for the workers. Although this report was published in 2007, seemingly little has changed for the garment industry workers in third world countries since then, as Bangladesh’s recent tragedies of the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in 2012 (117 dead and over 200 injured), and the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 (1,129 dead and over 2,500 injured) have shown. The fallout is that it’s now more commonplace for clothes brands to keep their production ties a very closely guarded secret.
For fair trade and Non toxic organic school uniforms please visit Eco Outfitters.