Daily Archives: January 20, 2010

LINKAGE: Healthy Nails, Ethical Fashion


Beauty is so often classified as a health concern –consider the layout of drugstore aisles, after all– but just as often there is little to no awareness of unhealthy conditions for the industry’s laborers. That’s where the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative breaks new ground. Literally a collaboration between nail salon workers and owners, non-profit and community organizations focused on labor and environmental and reproductive health and justice, the Collaborative “uses policy advocacy, research, industry advocacy outreach, and education strategies to address health and safety concerns facing these communities [nail salon workers and owners, cosmetologists and their clients]. Our mission is to advance a preventative environmental health agenda for the nail salon sector in California.”

The Collaborative offers loads of information about their campaigns for environmental and labor justice. Here’s more about the health and safety risks for the beauty industry’s labor forces, who are mostly women of color:

In California and throughout the United States, the beauty industry is booming. “Mani and pedis” are all the rage as customers want to be pampered with the latest nail designs, colors, and styles. Over the last twenty years, nail salon services have tripled and cosmetology is now the fastest growing profession in California.

Currently there are approximately 115,000 nail salon technicians in California, and most are women of color. Of these women, 59-80% are estimated to be Vietnamese immigrants, and more than 50% are of childbearing age. Many nail salon workers can earn less than $18,200 a year and work in conditions that can be hazardous to their health.

On a daily basis, nail salon workers handle numerous solvents, glues, and other nail care products. These contain many chemicals known to and suspected of causing acute and chronic illnesses including cancer, respiratory problems, skin problems and reproductive harm. There is very little state and federal government regulation of the chemicals used in these products. Also, little research has been done on the health issues that nail salon workers experience from long-term exposure to these chemicals. In fact, there are over 10,000 chemicals used in personal care and nail products and yet 89% have not been tested independently for their impacts on human health. Nail salon workers and other cosmetologists are at greater risk for health issues related to their work because of various challenges such as language and cultural barriers, and lack of access to health care. In addition, there is not enough culturally and linguistically appropriate education and outreach to this diverse population.

Through the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, advocates are working together at the intersection of workers rights, women’s rights, environmental and reproductive health/justice, and Asian American community health to advance greater worker health and safety for this sector.

And I only recently stumbled across Fashioning an Ethical Industry (FEI), a UK-based education project of garment workers’ rights organization Labour Behind the Label targeting the “next generation” of the fashion industry: “The project works with tutors and students of fashion-related courses to give an overview of how the fashion industry positively and negatively impacts on working conditions in garment manufacture and to inspire students – as the next generation of industry players – to raise standards in the for garment workers in the fashion industry of the future. We run students workshops, organise tutor training events, provide teaching resources and work with tutors to integrate ethical issues related to garment manufacture into their teaching.” What makes FEI even better is the amazingly extensive teaching resources available on their site — books, films, reports, factsheets, exhibitions, and more. I’ll definitely make use of this site the next time I teach Politics of Fashion.

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