Mining and Fashion

Few of us can fully comprehend the passion, effort and dedication it takes to become a high-end fashion designer or runway model or to orchestrate a Fashion Week event like those held annually in New York, Toronto, Vancouver and around the globe. While it is rare for high fashion to trickle down to the everyday consumer, most Canadians have a closet full of clothes, jewellery and makeup.

One survey estimated that Canadians spent "$1.4 billion on prestige beauty products" in 2014, and according to Statistics Canada, Canadians spent over $3,500 per person on clothing and accessories that same year.

Clothing supply chains are long and complex, so the raw materials used to make and colour the fabric and the machinery used to cut and assemble garments are often forgotten. Raw materials, such as natural clays or therapeutic salts, are used in makeup occasionally as marketing features but are often hidden in a lengthy list of ingredients.

The Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan Secretariat peered behind the scenes to identify just a few of the minerals and metals that are essential in the fashion industry.

Minerals on the Runway

Our ancestors have been using sewing needles to make clothing for thousands of years. The world's oldest sewing needle was found in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. The seven-centimetre needle is made from a bird bone and is 50,000 years old. It wasn't until the Bronze Age some 7,000 years ago that metals such as gold, bronze and copper were used, and steel approximately 300 years ago, to make metal sewing needles. Today, hand-sewing needles are made with a core of carbon steel and coated with nickel, gold or titanium alloy. Sewing machine needles are made of harder chrome- or titanium-plated steel.

Carbon steel—an alloy consisting of about 99 percent iron and one percent carbon, with slightly more carbon and fewer added metals than stainless steel—is also used to make scissors. Cutting fabric requires carbon steel to make a strong sharp blade. About half of the coal mined in Canada is metallurgical, or steelmaking, coal.

Aside from needles and scissors, and the buttons, zippers and clasps needed to hold clothes together, minerals and metals play a key role in the colour of the fabrics used to make clothing. Fabric colour is set with a mordant, a substance used to fix the colour to the fabric fibres. Today, metal salts in aluminum, chromium, iron, copper and tin are used as mordants.

Minerals on Skin

Salt is often marketed towards mature skin as it is thought to remove toxins, open pores and exfoliate dead skin cells. The source of the salt, a common mineral made primarily of sodium and chloride, is widely touted by manufacturers to influence the effectiveness of a skin treatment. You may have seen sea salt from the Dead Sea as a key ingredient in skin care products. Salt has hundreds of other uses aside from beauty treatments, and according to the United States Geological Survey, Canada is one of the largest producers of salt worldwide.

Most sunscreens contain zinc oxide, a white powder added to protect skin against exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In 2016, Canada produced 322,000 tonnes of zinc from mines located in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Zinc's primary use is in galvanizing, which protects iron and steel from rusting, but a small portion is made into zinc oxide by heating and cooling metallic zinc in a variety of ways and adding other minerals. Its primary use is in the manufacture of rubber, but also ceramics, medicines, paints and body creams.

All That Glitters

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Gold, silver, and platinum are the three main metals used in jewellery

Nothing finishes an outfit like jewellery. In 2018, Canadians will spend $3.5 billion on jewellery.Footnote 1 According to the International Gem Society, the three main jewellery metals are gold, silver and platinum—and Canadian mines produce all three. These "noble metals" resist oxidation and corrosion. They are also considered to be "precious", which means they are often used as currency (especially gold). Canadian Malartic in Quebec is our largest operating gold mine.

To complete the desired fashion look, however, we often turn to gemstones like rubies, sapphires and emeralds (to mention a few). These are minerals that are pretty and durable. They can be cut and polished. Most importantly, people like them for rings, earrings, necklaces, brooches and other fashion accessories. Canada is the third largest producer (in volume) of gemstones in the world.

The other star player in the world of jewellery is, of course, diamonds, and Canada is the third largest producer (by value) in the world with five mines including EKATI and Diavik in the Northwest Territories. These highly valuable gems attract criminal interest, which is why Canada helped establish the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and why our diamonds are "conflict free."

Without minerals and metals, the world of fashion would lack the sparkle that makes us shine. Without mining, the garments we wear would look a lot different than they do today. Without a vision to guide Canada's mining sector forward, will we be able to respond and adapt to emerging challenges? Have your say. Go to www.minescanada.ca, and let us know what you think.


Discover more interesting facts about mining and minerals on the Learn About Mining page.