Model environmentalists

Top Spanish fashion designers create toxic free fashion show

Feature story - 19 June, 2006
High fashion isn't normally known for being held in high regard among environmentalists. But some big names and big brands in fashion have gotten together with us to put on a toxics-free fashion show.

Part of a unique collection of non-toxic clothes designed exclusively by some of Spain's top fashion designers.

Sixteen top fashion designers, including Carmen March, Antonio Pernasand Jocomomola, showed that they believe in substance as well as style at a glittering 'Moda sin Toxicos' catwalk show in Madrid.  There they unveiled one-off creations designed to avoid the toxic chemicals widely used in clothing.

For those of us who don't get the chance to wear high fashion there will soon be more places to find toxic-free clothes at humbler establishments. Fashion giants Mango and Camper have now committed to phase out dangerous chemicals from their lines. They join the likes of H&M, Marks and Spencer, and Puma in going toxics-free.

While it might not seem obvious that clothes contain hazardous chemicals, modern production methods mean many do. It's not easy to avoid them, as Helen Perivier, our toxic campaigner explains:

"These fashion leaders work in a highly competitive industry, and are keen to put environmental and health concerns at the heart of their priorities. Innovative small businesses like these must currently go to extraordinary lengths to find materials that do not contain harmful chemicals; what they should be getting are guarantees that chemicals on the market are safe."

Current laws on toxic chemicals are not effective, often making it hard to avoid these substances.

Wake up call

The catwalk is intended as a well-dressed wake-up call to grey-suited political types in Brussels, who later this year will vote on new rules to govern the chemical industry. This autumn, the European Union will decide on the fate of a new chemicals regulation regime called REACH. At the heart of the debate is whether the new law will give a clear signal to the industry to substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives or not. Currently, thousands of chemicals are used in consumer products with little or no health or safety assessments, leading to widespread contamination. An unborn baby may now be exposed to 100 man-made chemicals before it is even born.

However, chemical producers have organised an unprecedented lobby against strong, effective chemical law, losing no opportunity to undermine its power to protect human health and the environment. In contrast, many other companies that use chemicals in their products see advantages in a strong REACH law that could guarantee safer materials. Despite only being a European law, once passed it will quickly become a global standard because Europe is the biggest market for the global chemicals industry.

The beautiful clothes on show in Madrid prove that it is possible to avoid toxic chemicals and still be stylish. Now it up to the European Union to stand firm and ensure that the toxic-free elements of this unique event will one day be the norm. Only then can we be sure that all our clothes and other products don't contain chemicals that can harm our health and our environment.

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Tell EU politicians not to weaken REACH by allowing dangerous chemicals to be used even when safer alternatives exist.

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