Chemical Finishing Agents on Clothing

One thing I’ve mentioned often is that it’s just as important for clothing to be free of harsh chemical finishing agents as it is for the base agricultural material to be organically grown. Many people who are chemically sensitive have reactions to the chemicals that are put on the fabric last because those chemicals often have the strongest residue on the final product.

So I have some knowledge of finishing agents, and I figure a little research on my part will help out my customers who may want to know more about what’s in conventional clothing and what to avoid.  I knew some basics about common carcinogens such as formaldehyde, which is used to make fabrics wrinkle-resistant and Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), which are used as flame-retardants.  But with a little research, I learned that I had barely touched the surface of the chemical finishing agent pool. According to the textbook Chemical Finishing of Textiles, there are thousands (!) of chemical finishing agents.

After a very short bought of reading up on chemicals such as fluorocarbons, silicons, acids and chlorines, I started to get depressed, and I particularly didn’t want to look up each of them in OSHA’s database.  Then I remembered that part of the reason I named my business Faerie’s Dance was because I wanted to approach environmentalism with a sense of joy and beauty rather than gloom and doom about toxic chemicals.  (And I almost didn’t publish this post.) 

So this is my final (somewhat limited) word on chemical finishing agents.  They’re mostly not environmentally friendly or people friendly and I avoid purchasing items made with them for our online store. 

Next time – something more fun! ūüôā

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Running, Guilty Pleasures and Stinky Clothes

Last week I ran (mostly) my first 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles). I’d been training for this for the last few months (during the times when I should have been posting to this blog…), so completing it was a huge success for me. The last few miles were pretty rough and I finished more on my own force of will than on my body’s fitness level. I clocked in at a slow 2:29 (2 hours, 29 minutes), which is good, because it means I have lots of room to improve. ūüėÄ

As a side note, the winner clocked in at 1:07. So he could have run the 1/2 marathon, sat and had a relaxing latte for 15 minutes, run it again, and he still would have beaten me!

Hints: Lower the volume before playing the video. 
I come into view at 0:41 seconds. This is mile 3, when my legs are still moving well.

Adrienne’s race day attire: Bamboo Sports Bra, Workout Shorts, Short Sport Socks – Coolmax¬ģ, and our discontinued Bamboo Briefs (which we are considering manufacturing ourselves since these are fabulous panties – especially for sports).


But I digress. The point of this story is actually about chemical finishing agents on clothing. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?) Having operated an eco-fashion store for more than 5 years now, it’s been a long time since I’ve bought any “conventional” clothing. During the race expo I came across a company that sold women’s technical running gear with absolutely awesome sayings on them. There were cute things like “yes, I run like a girl, try to keep up” and “some girls chase boys, I pass ’em.” But being a slow-ish runner, my favorites included “Race Day Strategy: Start slow and then back off” and the one I finally settled on “Who moved the finish line?”

I was so proud of my accomplishment, and in so much pain, I really wanted to show off my “Who moved the finish line?” shirt that same day. But when I put it on, it stunk! I mean really reeked of chemicals. Now I don’t now have, nor have I ever had, any chemical sensitivities. And when I bought conventional clothes on a regular basis, while they may have had chemical smells, I never really noticed them. I guess I had gotten used to what new clothes smell like. Only after wearing clean, organic clothes with no¬†finishing agents¬†and low-impact dyes for years did the chemical smell of conventional clothing really hit me. It was just an “ah-ha” moment that I thought I would share. It also gives me a new found empathy for all of our chemically sensitive clients.

Of course, the biggest thing I learned (besides the fact that I need to train more before embarking on another 1/2 marathon) is that really needs to carry more technical sports clothing! It is my goal to make hard-to-find items available, and good sportswear is needed. I’m always on the lookout for more supportive sports bras as well and we’ve got some new items coming in spring that I’m hoping will work well for a wider variety of cup sizes.

Stay Active!

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Rayon versus Tencel and the Great Bamboo Debate

For years humans have been making clothing fibers from wood cellulose.  Rayon was the first fabric that could start as wood and, through a series of chemical processes, end as cloth fiber.  Rayon is also considered the first of the synthetic fibers, having been developed in the 19th century as an alternative to silk.  Rayon can be created with any cellulose, not just wood, even cotton cellulose works.  While there is more than one way to make Rayon, the most commonly used method is called the viscose process.  Rayon is generally considered harmful to the environment because its processing employs several harsh chemicals, including carbon disulfide, and because the production process generates quite a bit of chemical waste.  Approximately 50% of the carbon disulfide ends up as waste product.

Tencel is a relatively new fiber on the scene, developed by the Austrian company Lenzing.  Tencel also begins as wood cellulose.  However, Tencel employs a closed-loop process that creates almost no waste by redirecting the waste products back into production.  It also uses fewer and less harmful chemicals.  Tencel has been awarded the European Union Eco-label certification and the Nordic Swan.  Tencel also starts with  Forest Stewardship Council certified wood products.

If you’ve had a chance to feel Tencel, you’ll find it has a lovely drape similar to Rayon and makes a great eco-alternative to Rayon.¬† Buyers should note that, like Rayon, Tencel doesn’t generally like the dryer.

The reason I’m¬†bringing this up is to discuss the Great Bamboo Debate.¬† Is Bamboo an eco-fabric or not?¬† Let’s start at the beginning.¬† Bamboo itself is the fastest-growing woody plant in the world. (It’s actually a member of the grass family.)¬† Bamboo grows naturally without any pesticides or herbicides and is very hearty.¬† So as an input material, Bamboo is very eco-friendly.¬† From there, however, things get dicey.¬† It seems most Bamboo-based fabrics are created using the traditional Rayon viscose process, which is why the Federal Trade Commission is concerned.¬† However, there are some companies claiming to use a closed-loop processing method similar to Tencel.¬† So on processing, it’s not black and white.

Finishing must also be mentioned.¬† Companies creating products from Bamboo who don’t specifically have an eco-philosophy may use conventional chemical finishing agents and dyes.¬† So the fact that something is Bamboo doesn’t give it an automatic eco-pass.¬† All of the companies works with are specifically focused on eco-production.¬† So none of our Bamboo fashions have harsh chemical finishes and they are all low-impact dyed, not conventionally dyed.

In truth, we have not followed the producer train back far enough to know which of our vendors are using viscose processing and which are using a closed-loop system.¬† We do know that several of our severely chemically sensitive clients have had very good luck with our bamboo products.¬† That may be due more to the lack of chemical finishes than anything else, but it’s something to consider.

In the end you as the consumer will have to decide if eco-friendly growing, finishing and dyeing are enough to warrant a green label if you’re uncertain of the processing step.¬† In the meantime, we’ll be following up with each of our manufacturers to determine how the Bamboo was processed.

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Your favorite lingerie – satin, lace and Formaldehye?

Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  So it might surprise you to find out that there’s probably formaldehyde in your underwear, albeit at very low levels.

Formaldehyde has been used for years on a variety of clothing as a finishing agent.  It contributes to the stain-free, wrinkle-free and static-free properties of a garment.  The low levels of the chemical used in clothing have historically been considered safe.

However, last year Victoria’s Secret got hit with a lawsuit after one woman started developing welts and rashes after wearing one of their bras.  The lawsuit snowballed and there is now a class action suit against Victoria’s Secret.  I’m not sure that this is really a “fair” lawsuit, since you’d very likely find the same chemicals in bras purchased from the mall or any *mart store.  Additionally, some people are very sensitive to certain chemicals, while others may wear the same garment for years without issue.

All that being said, even if formaldehyde is harmless at low levels and can be removed with a few good washings, do you really want it in your underwear?  You may not be chemically sensitive, but… yuck!  Let’s not get all gloomy now, though. quite happily offers more than 3 dozen panty options and 2 dozen bras all sans formaldehyde.  Now that’s something to dance about.

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