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The 3 Least Sustainable Items in Your Wardrobe

The 3 Least Sustainable Items in Your Wardrobe
By Elena Picci

Did you have nightmares as a child to have monsters in your closet? What if they were there all this time but you couldn’t recognize them? Some pieces of our wardrobe are terrible for our health and the environment. Let’s see together the 3 worst monsters that were hidden inside all this time.

When you were a child, did you ever have nightmares about monsters hiding in your closet?

What if they have been in there all this time but you just couldn’t recognize them?

Today we bring your attention to the real monsters hidden in your closet: the unsustainable pieces of your wardrobe. Lucky for you, there are many ways to replace them and reduce your environmental footprint.

3 unsustainable pieces of your closet
Image Credit: Saey

The monsters hiding in your closet

#1 Swimwear

Whether or not it will be possible to go to the beach this summer remains uncertain, but worst-case scenario, our Instagram feeds will be full of balcony sun tanning pics.

Even though your bathing suits hold precious memories of the ocean, they could be toxic for you and the environment. Bathing suits are designed to endure harsh conditions, whether it be sand & salt water or the chlorine in your pool. This usually means that there are a lot of chemicals involved.

How is it possible for an item that makes us so happy to be terrible for us? What makes a bathing suit a “monster” when it comes to the environment?


Most of the time your swimsuits will be made of Nylon, Spandex, Lycra, and Polyester. These synthetic fabrics are made from oil. They are also very cheap, so brands tend to use them a lot. In fact, an estimated 65 million tons of these plastic-based materials are generated every year. (Fast Company).

As with any plastic material, there is the issue of microplastic pollution. Even though we can’t see them, microplastics are released into the environment each time you wash plastic-based garments (Fashionista). To create a sustainable swimsuit is a challenging feat, as it needs to be both stylish and durable. The more common alternatives are the ones made from recycled materials or simply made from the regenerated nylon from plastic bottles called ECONYL. However, keep in mind that it is still made from plastic. Last year, the sustainable brand Reformation, launched a swimwear collection made from Econyl. Even though they were excited about this recycled collection they titled the release campaign “This swimsuit is not sustainable enough”, a nod to the fact that this solution still involves plastic and is far from perfect (Fashionista).

Check out Renoon’s collection of sustainable swimwear made from Econyl.


Did you know that the dyes used in our swimwear are linked to cancer?

As you can imagine, in order for your beloved bikini to keep its neon colour when exposed to saltwater and sand, it has been dyed with strong and resistant chemicals. Common dyes include  VOCS, Lead, Chromium VI, all of which are highly toxic and could cause damage in the reproductive system as well as cancer. To prevent chlorine from turning your bathing suit yellow, waterproofing chemicals are necessary. The chemicals used for water resistance are known as called PFCs, which have also been linked to cancer and are highly toxic in the environment (Goop).

3 unsustainable pieces of your closet
Image Credit: CLOSED

The monsters hiding in your closet

#2 Denim

You can always count on your favourite jeans to give your legs the perfect shape. However, don’t count on them to be good for the environment. Sorry to disappoint you but your beloved pair of jeans might have huge consequences for the environment. You may be asking yourself how can I find sustainable jeans? And don’t worry, there are many options but first, let’s explore what makes this item one of the monsters in our closet.


Look at your jeans. How many litres of water do you think were required to produce them?

Its hard to believe, but one kilogram of cotton – equivalent to the weight of a shirt and pair of jeans – can take as much as 10,000–20,000 to produce (The Guardian). After the cotton is grown, it will need to be bleached, which requires more water to wash it out. Fortunately, innovation is on our side and we now have materials like Organic Cotton, which use much less water.


The famous blue colour of our jeans is not as nice on the environment as it is to look at.

Sadly this famous dye has been known to pollute and contaminate entire rivers, especially in Asia.

There is a joke in China that says you can predict the ‘’it’’ colors of a fashion season by looking at the color of the Pearl River at Xintang, the blue jeans capital of the world. Do you want to find jeans that do not contaminate freshwater? Go for Indigo jeans.


Do you like jeans that look vintage but are actually new? Well in order to make them look old, denim is actually ‘’sandblasted’’. There are different ways to do it. The cheapest, most common methods scraping the surface of the denim with an abrasive material. This process is toxic for the manufacturers, as it releases silica dust into the air. Silica is linked to many respiratory health issues (River Blue). But don’t be discouraged, there are many alternative solutions to avoid sandblasting. The first is to actually buy jeans that are not damaged or go for jeans that have this worn-out look made from clean laser technologies. Have a look at Closed jeans!

3 unsustainable pieces from your closet
Image Credit: Veja

The monsters hiding in your closet

#3 Shoes

Who could have guessed that an item such as shoes, who’s primary purpose is to make us exercise are actually bad for our health? Shoes might be the most complex item in our closet as they contain many different materials and chemicals. Shoes are considered as one of the most terrible monsters in your closet for the following reasons.


You might already know that leather is often criticised from an ethical perspective. Some brands such as Stella McCartney have all of their products animal-free. However, leather also criticised for its environmental impact.  An animal skin without any treatment would smell bad, dry quickly, and decompose in a short period of time. As you can imagine, there are a whole host of chemicals that go into making the leather suitable for purses and accessories.

On the bright side, there are many businesses using alternative methods of skin tanning such as vegetable ones that do not include any Chrome VI. If you want your leather to have less of an impact on the environment, you might want to go for less toxic leather or simply, chose vegan leather.


Rubber is a must-have, especially right now with the trend of “dad-shoes”. But what is rubber? Few people actually know that rubber is a natural liquid called latex made from plants. Being a high demand material, many forests have been destroyed to make way for rubber plantations. Natural latex is linked sadly to deforestation by Greenpeace and WWF (BBC). In order to respond to the high volume of requests and not be linked to deforestation, rubber is made artificially with a toxic material called PVC. This material has been boycotted by many famous brands as its production has had health consequences for workers.

To sum it up: The best option is natural rubber, but make sure it comes from a controlled and secured plantation! Check out Veja’s shoes, which have a rubber-sole that comes from responsible forests in the amazon.


Shoes are the most difficult pieces to donate. Once you don’t use them anymore and the comfort is gone; its value is lost. As a result, this item is often thrown away. What happens to our clothes when we throw them away?

The fact that shoes combine so many different parts make them difficult to recycle. Some shoes could last up to 1000 years in landfill (The Guardian).

It is estimated that worldwide, 20 billion pairs of shoes are made each year (The Shoe Industry). We will let you imagine how much landfill waste that generates.


You might wonder how come some shoes especially the one you use for training, don’t smell bad while others do?

Well, of course, it can depend on our hygiene, but it could as well depends on the amount of anti-mold chemicals that the manufacturer has put inside of your shoes. In order to last longer, shoes need protection from moisture, mold and fungus. However, the chemicals used are as you can imagine quite toxic. One of them, called Dimethyl Fumarate (DMF) used to prevent the mold, was banned only 10 years ago.

Don’t pop the champagne just yet. The chemicals used to replace it are still quite bad for our health and could be particularly dangerous for vulnerable people, especially children.

What to read next

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