Unhappy with an apparel industry that creates tons of hazardous pollutants, this eco-warrior raised money online to start an alternative
Don't let the glamour of a runway show fool you. The apparel industry has a dirty little secret: It's one of the biggest water polluters in the world. Abroad, 0.5 million tons of hazardous fabric dye runoff contaminates the water systems of offshore textile producers; at home, toxic chemicals remain in the fabric and make the trip to America's malls, consumers' closets, and, ultimately, the wearer's skin.
Rebecca Burgess, eco-warrior, textile artisan, and author, dedicates herself to creating an alternative to the fast fashion supply chain. Inspired by teaching botanical dyeing to grade schoolers, learning land management techniques from Native American women, and observing traditional textile artisans in Southeast Asia, she explores the intersection of art and nature through her ecological restoration projects. She aims to swing the pendulum away from a system that devastates the environment and threatens our health to one that creates the smallest carbon footprint possible, supports the local community, and makes non-toxic clothing that lasts.
Burgess brings a sociopolitical sensibility to her craft. "There's this big mismatch between the resources that [local farmers] are supplying and our current textile supply chain," she says. "Most of it is due to a few people wanting really big margins." Indeed, fast fashion labels seek the cheapest garments regardless of the immediate health and environmental dangers involved. Greenpeace investigated the wastewater next to two Chinese textile facilities along the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas and uncovered alkylphenols and PFCs in the samples. "These chemicals," they noted in their 2011 report, "Dirty Laundry," "are known hormone disruptors and can be hazardous even at very low levels." Burgess notes that, in America as well, these substances harm those who handle the fabric: "Two of the designers that I work with got poisoning from formaldehyde treatments, one of whom lost her short-term memory for two years."