I’ve always despised mall clothing stores. Blazing fluorescent lights, mile-long dressing-room lines and the high-pitched din of gossiping tweens have irked ever me since I was a high-pitched gossiping tween. Still, I certainly spent my share of junior-high Saturdays cruising Contempo Casuals and The Gap with my pals before busting to Musicland. But now I avoid malls whenever possible, which saves my sanity, and, as a group of whip-smart, determined Bay Area teens recently reminded me, also spares my health.
On September 28, members of Teens Turning Green, a grassroots-gone-national youth group that advocates for social and environmental responsibility and limiting health-harming toxins, poured into a San Francisco Abercrombie & Fitch store to protest the company’s signature Fierce fragrance, which rides on employees’ wrists and gets cranked in and around the store via wall sprayers. Sure, the store Fierce-ifies the air in attempt to solidify its brand and boost sales, but the heavy doses not only cause headaches and aggravate allergies for employees, shoppers and passersby—the fragrance also has the potential to disrupt hormones and derail sperm counts.
How did TTG catch wind, or whiff, of this toxin-stocked air (besides the obvious scent wafting down to the food court)? The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group released a study earlier this year that found 38 undisclosed chemicals in 17 name-brand fragrances. Among the worst offenders were scents from mall mainstays American Eagle (24 chemicals), Quiksilver (16), Bath and Body Works (14), Victoria’s Secret (13) and Abercrombie & Fitch (11), along with a few atrium-kiosk perfumes like Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity (13) and Britney Spears Curious (17). Although these unlisted chemicals are considered trade secrets and therefore not required to appear on labels, many accumulate in the body and wreak serious havoc, specifically diethyl phthalate and musk ketone.
Now for someone like me who spends way more time scanning EWG reports and natural personal care ingredient labels than racks of hot, new pre-torn jean shorts, I have a decent grip on the dangers that can ensue from simply breathing in the air. Even so, I tend to forget the gravity of these hazards when I’m out in the world, poking into noxious candle stores or riding elevators with perfume-soaked professionals. And I guarantee that slews of intelligent, informed people—especially young people—rarely give harmful fragrances a second thought, and an astonishing number aren’t even aware there are problems.
Which is why I’m so impressed with this TTG protest. I can only imagine how many teen and tween heads turned that day at the sound of their peers chanting “A&F, stop your spray! Your toxic fragrance must go away!” And I’d have to believe a few employees went home that night and did a little research of their own on the matter. And, while the company defends its perfume and practices right on its Facebook page, the fact that it even acknowledges the issue in such a widely seen forum spreads awareness even further, á la the old no publicity is bad publicity mantra.
So we’ll see how this all shakes out. But in the meantime, I’m sure a few more mall-goers, teens and tweens included, will think twice before plowing through the toxic sludge.