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WTF Is PVC? Why PVC Clothing Is a Really, Really Bad Idea

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Once upon a time, Greenpeace declared Valentino to be one of the most eco-friendly couture brands around. But since they introduced a PVC raincoat, it’s time for that accolade to disappear.

Sadly, Valentino isn’t the only big fashion house to use PVC: very depressingly, Lanvin, Miu Miu, Nina Ricci, and Isabel Marant are but a few designers who have used this deadly material in their recent collections. WWD has declared that “glossy PVC and pleather have been giving (2018’s) resort collections a subversive edge.” And celebrities like Alexa Chung and Gisele Bundchen have been seen wearing the stuff, which has forced us to reconsider Gisele’s position as a ‘green model.’

Why? Well, polyvinyl chloride, a.k.a. PVC, a.k.a. vinyl, is one of the deadliest plastics known to man, often referred to as poison plastic as it contains several seriously harmful toxic chemicals including dioxins, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium, and organotins. This lethal combination gives the stuff an appealing, shiny and sometimes patent-leather-like surface, so some designers use it as ‘vegan leather’. But you know what? There’s nothing cruelty-free about PVC.

Image: Burberry

There’s seriously NO WORSE material 

PVC is really dangerous to human and animal health not only through the osmosis of the material on the skin, but also throughout its entire life cycle of production, use, and disposal. The main reason is due to the large amount of chlorine used in making it, but there’s also a  dangerous byproduct called dioxin formed in making it and when PVC is incinerated as garbage.

Vinyl chloride, the main chemical used to make PVC, is a known endocrine disruptor and carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and workers in PVC manufacturing facilities, as well as residents of surrounding communities, have higher cancer rates from exposure to these chemicals which contaminate the water, soil and air. People who work with PVC have reported lower fertility rates, irregular menstrual periods and are more prone to having children with sexual abnormalities.

Even short-term exposure of humans to high levels of dioxins may result in skin lesions, but long-term exposure can cause an impairment of the immune system, the nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions.

Clearly, PVC is truly the most perilous of plastics. So why the hell would anyone consider making fashion out of this?

Isabel Marant FW 2017-18

The biggest idiots

Whilst many claim (optimistically?) that sustainable fashion is growing, and whilst some conscious fashion houses like Gucci are banishing fur and PVC from their catwalks, loads of others continue to create fashion from man-made poison, and some consumers, whether they’re uninformed, careless or just plain stupid, insist on wearing it.

For example, as mentioned, not-so-eco Gisele  recently wore this nastiest of plastics, but she’s not the only one: Bella Hadid, Rita Ora, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and just about any other unwoke celebrity you can imagine has been donning the stuff.

And what’s worse, pretty much ALL mainstream fashion magazines, from WWD and Vogue to Glamour and Marie Claire have been raving about how ‘wonderful’ the new PCV ‘trend’ is, whilst others, like Bustle.com, even ridiculously declared that “PVC’s debauched history makes me more determined to exchange my entire wardrobe for something a little more synthetic.” Seriously? How out of touch are these editors? Can they really be that ignorant about the environmental impact of this stuff?

Vegans beware

If you think that thanks to its durability and shininess, PVC is a good leather substitute, you’re wrong. Vegans won’t buy leather because obviously, it harms animals. But guess what? Killing a cow for a bag is nothing compared to what PVC can do to animals

The corrosive, highly toxic hydrogen chloride gas used to make the material burns skin and causes permanent, severe lung damage to all creatures exposed to it – be they humans, rodents or birds. What’s worse – way worse, in fact – is the dioxin, though. This is the world’s most deadly man-made carcinogen, and it persists in the environment long, long after PVC is made. Dioxin spreads through the air and water and is so pervasive that it has even been found in the tissues of animals living in remote areas, like polar bears and whales. In fact, scientists have noted that dioxins, which mess with sex hormones, are creating hermaphrodite and sterile polar bears, thus reducing their numbers due to the fact that they cannot reproduce.

What’s more, disposal of PVC is problematic; in short, there is no good way to get rid of it once it’s created. It doesn’t decompose when buried, and releases dangerous gases into the water table and earth, poisoning food and water. When incinerated, it’s particularly dangerous, releasing deadly gases that can kill masses of passing birds. 

It’s not just fashion though…

We live in a world that is overwhelmed by PVC: it’s in our homes, hospitals, cars, and in toys and food and beverage packaging. It’s disturbing to know that many modern houses have been built using materials that contain up to 75% PVC, from water pipes to window blinds, door frames and flooring. It’s in shower curtains and pets’ bowls. Maybe worst of all, PVC is used in children’s plastic toys and even teething products!

Until governments smarten up and ban PVC, ultimately, it’s up to us to realise how dangerous this stuff is and avoid it like the plague. Whilst it may be difficult to spot in some items, like blinds or bowls, it’s pretty much in your face when it comes to fashion. Now that you know how deadly this textile is for the health of animals, humans and the planet, it’s time to speak out against all who use it, promote it and sell it.

We feel so strongly about this theme, we’ve started a petition about it! Together, we can do something to stop the damage caused by PVC. Please sign our petition here, and spread the word!



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