Fast Fashion And Grassroots Solutions - The Palette Couch Manifeston

By Sage Territo

The Impact of Fast Fashion


The modern fashion industry is extremely harmful to the environment and garment industry workers. The Fast fashion facilitates a linear economy as opposed to a more sustainable circular economy. Garment industry laborers face poor working conditions and low wages. Clothing is manufactured using hazardous chemicals and synthetic fabric to create low quality disposable clothing. In the United States, this clothing is often thrown away or sent to be sold second hand overseas . However, this research solely focuses on the environmental impacts and the economy that enables the fast fashion industry. A purposed grassroots solution to this problem is the manufacturing of products from used clothing. Some companies have recycled textiles to create products such as insulations. However, not everyone has access to textile recycling programs, especially college students. Furthermore, students buy furniture manufactured in an unsustainable way. The creation of a couch out of recycled materials will allow college students, and anyone else in the market for a cheap eco-friendly couch, the ability to intervene with a solution to the negative cycle of the fast fashion industry.

Linear versus Circular economy

Environmental movements have begun to challenge the economy that fosters pollution and consequently global warming. The linear consumer economy is being questioned while a circular economic model is being proposed. A circular economy is an “industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design.” It replaces disposable culture with concepts of , “restoration [and] shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminating the use of toxic chemicals...[ the circular economy] aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.” [1] Contrarily a linear economy is based on production, consumption and disposal, this is the system fast fashion operates under. “The increased volumes of clothing being made, sold, and thrown away magnifies the human and environmental costs of our clothes at every stage of their life cycle.” [2] This economy has become popular by the fast fashion industry and its ability to create large quantities of clothing for cheap and affordable prices.

Fast Fashion

Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University's Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design points out that fashion used to be organized into four seasons a year, but has now grown to be about 11 to 15 seasons. “Around 80 billion garments are produced worldwide, the equivalent of just over 11 garments a year for every person on the planet.” [2] According to financial holding company CIT, the most popular fast fashion retailers grew “ 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, topping the 6.8 percent of growth of traditional apparel companies.” [4]

Chemicals and Synthetic Materials

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE’s) are surfactants (dyes/ industrial detergents) found in 89 of 141 pieces of clothing tested in a case study.[2] The production of NPE’s results in the byproduct Nonylphenol (NP). According the the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NP is “persistent in the aquatic environment, moderately bioaccumulative, and extremely toxic to aquatic organisms.”. NP is also released into local waterways when consumers wash clothing in washing machines. Furthermore, when clothing is thrown away the NP’s leach into groundwater, introducing toxins to marine life and drinking water. Phthalates are a chemical present in most clothing with prints. “There are substantial concerns about the toxicity of phthalates to wildlife and humans. For example, DEHP, one of the most widely [used phthalates], is known to be toxic to reproductive development in mammals.” [2] Phthalates, like NP’s are released when clothing is cleaned in a washing machine and when it is disposed of in a dump. Some biodegradable chemicals used in the production of clothing are still toxic in some regards. Benzyl benzoate “has been classified as toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.” [2] “The most commonly found chemicals were alkanes, with one or more of these substances found in 59 of the 63 items tested; some kinds of alkanes can have toxicological effects, although alkanes are biodegradable.” [2] Natural materials, are more expensive in their production, so in order to support the broken system of modern day fashion these chemicals are consistently used. These chemicals disproportionately harm female Garment Industry workers in industrial hubs such as Bangladesh. Studies have shown that general health of women is impaired by garment industry working conditions. Pratima Paul-Majumder, author of “Health Impact of Women's Wage Employment: A Case Study of the Garment Industry of Bangladesh” has done extensive research on this topic. According to her, “The garment workers are vulnerable to these illnesses en masse since they have to continuously inhale toxic substances emitted from chemicals used in dyeing fabric, dust and small particles of fibre.” This situation is made worse by the expectation that workers that have cough, cold and fever. This leads to the spread of disease in factories. Incessant cold and fevers sometimes lead to asthma.

Disposal of Clothing

"We don't necessarily have the ability to handle the disposal," Tasha Lewis explains, "The rate of disposal is not keeping up with the availability of places to put everything that we're getting rid of and that's the problem." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, 12.8 million tons of this waste was discarded. [4] As mentioned in Chemicals and Synthetic Materials, when disposed of clothing made of synthetic material will leach chemicals into groundwater.

Furniture Production

Much like clothing, couches are often produced using chemicals. In the case of commercially manufactured couches, flame retardant coats the exterior. According to Time Magazine, “The half life of some of these chemicals is five to seven years, meaning it takes that amount of time for the concentration of that chemical in your body to fall by 50 percent...and studies have shown that 90 percent of the American population has these flame retardant chemicals in their bodies.” The disposal of these items, like with clothing, leads to chemicals leaching into groundwater.

Recycled Couch

The Recycled couch project is a grassroots solution to the disposal of textiles specifically on college campuses. Instead of disposing of clothing, thus allowing it to leach toxins into groundwater, I am encouraging students to give this fabric a second life and support a circular economy. This project proposes an alternative to purchasing dorm furniture. Furniture is often

unsustainably produced and harmful to the environment when disposed of. By addressing the

issue of clothing disposal (which is encouraged by fast fashion) and the unsustainable practices

of furniture production, this project will be intervening at both ends of the linear economy in order to create a closed loop. This project is also specific to college students who often have the

resources and facilities to do projects of this nature. Students can gather damaged clothing from

“free piles”, as well as collecting from friends and peers. Palettes can be found at most loading

docks by dining halls and grocery stores.


[1]From linear to circular—Accelerating a proven concept, World Economic Forum, <http:// supply-chains/from-linear-to-circular-accelerating-a-proven-concept/>

[2]Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up , Greenpeace International <https://


[3] Risk Management for Nonylphenol and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates, EPA<https:// and-nonylphenol-ethoxylates>

[4] ZHAI YUN TAN (April 10, 2016). What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposables

And Cheap? NPR, <


[5] Markham Heid (August 24, 2016) You Asked: Can My Couch Give Me Cancer? Time


[6]Howdeshell KL, Wilson VS, Furr J, Lambright CR, Rider CV, Blystone CR, Hotchkiss AK &

Gray Jr LE (2008). A mixture of five phthalate esters inhibits fetal testicular testosterone

production in the Sprague Dawley rat in a cumulative dose additive manner. Toxicol. Sci. 105:


[7] Grande SW, Andrade AJ, Talsness CE, Grote K & Chahoud I (2006).

A dose–response study following in utero and lactational exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate:

effects on female rat reproductive development. Toxicol. Sci. 91: 247–254

[8] Gray Jr LE, Laskey J & Ostby J (2006). Chronic di-n-butyl phthalate exposure in rats reduces

fertility and alters ovarian function during pregnancy in female Long Evans hooded rats. Toxicol.

Sci. 93: 189–195

[9] Towards the Circular Economy 1 and 2, 2012 and 2013, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

[10] Pratima Paul-Majumder, Health Impact of Women's Wage Employment: A Case Study of the

Garment Industry of Bangladesh (Bangladesh Development Studies, March-June 1996)


How to Make a Palette Couch

Figure 1

Cut Palette in Half

Figure 2

1-Drill 3 holes ( larger than your screw) diagonally in area indicated with circle. Make sure these

will allow the screw to line up with Side B. Do not drill all the way through leave about an inch

of wood depending on your screw length

Figure 3

1-Pre-drill holes for screws in Side B that align with the holes in Side A

2-Insert screws in the holes

Figure 4

1-Stretch out strapping over the top of Side B

2-Mark Strapping and wood (under Side B) where you will screw it into the wood

3-Pre-drill holes for screws in side B

4-Punch holes in Strapping to match with predrilled holes

5-Drill strapping into the bottom of the couch using washers to ensure it is secure

Figure 5

1-Get two pieces of fabric large enough to make a cushion (old sheets/tablecloths/quilt smaller

pieces of fabric

2-Put fabric inside out and sew all openings except for one

3-Fill with recycled textiles that you cut into strips

4-Sew on buttons or a zipper to close final side

5-Sew two strips of fabric to each corner of the bottom of the cushion (this will be used to tie the

cushion to the frame)

6-Repeat 1-5 as you need two cushions for this couch