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The fashion industry is extremely harmful to the environment as less than 1% of the materials used to make clothes are recycled, processed and reused while 98 million tons of non-renewable sources are consumed each year for its needs. The clothing industry also leaves an energy imprint on the greenhouse effect. Furthermore, it is the biggest polluter of the seas, because it is responsible for the largest percentage of plastics that end up in the oceans. It is estimated that half a million plastic microfibers found in polyester, nylon or acrylic clothing materials end up in the seas each year.

Cotton is a strong natural fiber that absorbs moisture, is easy to use and suitable for alteration. This is the main reason why it has gained great popularity in the fashion industry. It usually takes 5-6 months for a cotton t-shirt to decompose while polyester takes about 200 years. Cotton is very demanding on water. 2700 liters of water are usually used to create a t-shirt. Cotton cultivation requires the use of more chemicals than any other. 450 kg of chemicals are used to produce one ton of cotton. 4.3 kg of carbon dioxide are produced during the production process of a t-shirt. This equates to driving a 16km car.

Polyester is the most common oil-produced textile fibre in the world. Polyester dominates the garment industry, with annual production more than 22.67 billion tons worldwide. It exists in all clothing either as a unique material or its fibers in fabrics combined with cotton, wool, and nylon. A polyester t-shirt usually needs 20 to 200 years to decompose. Polyester recycling is possible and the impact of recycling on the environment is smaller than that of creating new fibres. Polyester pigments are toxic to humans while 1,900 individual plastic microfibers are released per 1 kg of polyester. 3.8 kg of carbon dioxide are produced per 1 kg of polyester.

Acrylic is a synthetic fiber-based oil. It is mainly used for the production of knitwear, artificial fur and underwear. It is much cheaper than wool and is therefore used to replace it or mixed with it and other materials such as cotton and moher. It is not biodegradable, nor is it easily recycled. The production of acrylic is more demanding in water compared to the production of polyester. During washing, it releases environmentally harmful microfibers that contaminate water. The production of acrylic is more energy demanding than the production of polyester.

Linen is a breathable and antibacterial fabric. It is grown in a cold non-tropical climate. It usually takes 2 weeks to decompose. It is responsible for 30 times lower water consumption than cotton. Pesticides are not needed. 3.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide are absorbed annually from a 10-acre field cultivated with flax. It requires 5 to 20 times less energy than cotton.

Sheep wool
Sheep wool is the oldest animal textile fibre used in textiles. Chemically raw wool takes 1–5 years to decompose. Sheep's wool is 500 times less demanding in water, compared to cotton production. 3 times less energy consumption is required compared to the production of acrylic fabric.

Leather is a natural material created by the treatment of raw animal skin. 25–50 years is usually the time it takes for the leather to decompose. The water imprint is 17 liters per kilogram, which is 20 times less than the production of artificial leather. The carbon dioxide emission during the treatment of natural leather is 4 times greater than the production of artificial leather. Animals are kept in immoral or painful conditions.


The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, it is the second largest polluter in the world, and the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, textile production produces 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas every year. The United Nations estimates that 10 percent of total global emissions come from the fashion industry.

The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the millions garments purchased each year.

Synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural fibers.

Most of our clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, or India, countries essentially powered by coal. This is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions.

Huge quantity of fresh water is used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes. As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of freshwater per ton of dyed fabric.

Also, cotton needs A LOT of water to grow (and heat). Up to 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. This generates tremendous pressure on this precious resource, already scarce, and has dramatic ecological consequences such as the desertification of the Aral Sea, where cotton production has entirely drained the water.

Fashion is undoubtedly a thirsty industry. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, textile production uses around 93 billion cubic meters of water annually - the equivalent to 37 million Olympic swimming pools. Water consumption on that level is felt in dry regions especially.

The transportation of clothing results in carbon dioxide emissions and pollution. Fashion factories are often remotely located, so transportation of the good relies heavily on trucks, boats, and planes. After cotton is grown and harvested it is shipped to a spinning facility. Then, the snowy ropes of yarn are sent to a mill. The finished products are ready to transport to consumers all over the world. The act of transporting the t-shirts plays a large role in its overall carbon footprint. According to a comprehensive life-cycle analysis by Sandra Roos, a PhD student at Chalmers Institute of Technology in Sweden, 22% of a garment’s climate impact came from transportation to and from the store.

Textiles can take up to 200+ years to decompose in landfills. Decomposing clothing releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming. There are dyes and chemicals in fabric and other components of clothing and shoes that can leach into the soil contamination, both surface and groundwater.

Most of the material is completely reusable or recyclable, but only if it is proactively collected.

Clothing clearly becomes disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated.

Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing.

How can we reduce our Fashion Environmental Impact?

Even the greenest garment uses resources for production and transport to your home, creating some environmental impact. A root of the problem lies in our excessive consumerism: we buy 10 while our grandmothers bought 2. We tend to think that buying new clothes will make us happy. Maybe we should reconsider some foundations of our lifestyle.

More and more fashion brands take into account the environmental and social impact of their production. We will not lie to you: the offer is still limited and it is easier and cheaper to go to the closest shopping center to refill your wardrobe. But the more we demand sustainable clothing, the more will be available. Pricewise, you will pay more for sustainable clothing than in a fast fashion shop, but we know what lies behind those very low prices... Nonetheless, sustainable brands will not necessarily cost more than brand-name clothing, for which we sometimes pay high prices for the image, but rarely for the quality or the sustainability.

Because clothes have become so cheap, we no longer care as much about quality. We just buy new garments when the ones we have lose their shape or appeal. Additionally, we have all had the experience of buying expensive clothing or pair of shoes and facing the disappointment when two month later, they already look old or have holes in them. If we stop buying poor quality, it will push brands to improve the quality of their garments. It will also allow us to keep our clothes longer, which is good for our wallets and for the environment.

Don’t throw your clothes in the normal bins. Most of them consist of synthetic, non-biodegradable fiber and will just pile up in the landfill. There are other options: -Try to repair them. Sometimes with a bit of imagination, you can repair or even redesign a torn garment. - Donate your clothes to your friends, family, neighbours, or to charity. - Some clothes shops take back used clothes from their own brand or even from other brands. - Put them in the textile recycling bin. Textiles can be recycled to make new clothing.

Instead of buying new clothing, have a look at alternative options: - Second hand shop: You can find second hand shops everywhere in the world. Many websites and apps also offer all kinds of second hand options ranging from the cheapest to brand-name clothes. - Swap clothes: These types of initiatives are popping up all over the world. Participants bring clothes that they no longer wear and exchange them for clothes they will use. This is an economic and eco-friendly way to refill your wardrobe. You can also organize it among your friends. - Rent clothes: Clothes rentals is also a growing industry. This is a great option, especially for clothes that you will not wear for a long time or often. Some companies also offer a monthly fee, allowing customers to constantly renew their wardrobe. The organization of second hand, swapping and renting clothes usually takes place on a local level. Find out what is available in your neighbourhood.

Washing our clothes has a significant environmental impact. The average household does almost 400 loads of laundry every year, consuming about 60,000 liters of water. It also takes a lot energy to heat the washing water and run the drying cycle.

Once the t-shirt reaches the retail market it is purchased, thus entering into the use phase. This phase may seem like the least environmentally detrimental portion of the garment’s lifecycle. But take into consideration the number of times you’ve washed and dried your favorite t-shirt. Washing machines are certainly becoming more efficient. However, the average American household does nearly 400 loads of laundry per year, using about 40 gallons of water per full load with a conventional washer. Such excessive water use combined with the immense amount of energy used by dryers provides evidence for the dire need for conservation efforts.

The biggest environmental drain your clothing causes comes from the repeated washing and drying we all do to keep our clothes clean. In fact, the environmental impact of laundering that t shirt for its life cycle (about 75 times) creates 17 times more CO2 emissions than the entire production process from cotton seed to retail store, two thirds of which is from using a conventional tumble dryer.