environmental impact of the fashion industry

for decades we’ve allowed senseless consumerism to drive our manufacturing decisions. profit is a priority over the destructive impacts that these practices have on our environment. as americans & europeans, we have the privilege of not witnessing too much of this destruction first hand- instead the toxicity of manufacturing burdens developing countries without the infrastructure or strict government regulations to responsibly control factory waste. most consumers are completely unaware of the gravity of this situation, but knowledge gives us the power to know better and do better.


the fashion industry is the second largest consumer & polluter of water.
it takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans! in a world where water is already scarce (over a billion people don’t have access to safe water) this tremendous strain on our water system leads to devastating effects, like the desertification of the aral sea, where cotton production has entirely drained the water.


20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.
china alone dumps 3 billion tons of textile wastewater every year. in fact, 90% of wastewater dumped in developing countries is discharged into rivers without treatment. 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world are micro-fibers, with 190,000 tons of micro-plastic fibers ending up in our oceans yearly.


98% of clothing thrown away in the US can be reused or recycled, yet 14 million tons of textiles end up in landfills yearly.
in america, the average lifespan of a piece of clothing is only 3 years before it is thrown away. however, this doesn’t mean the end of life for a garment, synthetic materials like nylon will take 40 years to biodegrade while polyester can take over 200 years.


for every 1 pound of clothing created, 25 pounds of greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.
the majority of the world’s clothing is created in countries that rely on coal, which is the dirtiest energy source. harmful emissions are created during manufacturing & again during distribution. america imports 98% of our clothing & a single t-shirt traveling from china to california results in over 9,000 “clothing miles” or over 2 pounds of CO2 emissions.

deforestation & desertification

70 million trees are cut down each year to create our clothing with 30% coming from endangered & ancient forests.
deforestation isn’t the only practice destroying local ecosystems, desertification is also devastating regions where clothing manufacturing is heavy. one example of desertification is in mongolia, where 90% of the country’s surface is suffering due to the breeding of cashmere goats.

what can you do?

you have the power to make positive change!
we know the information about the impact of the fashion industry is overwhelming, but you can only climb a mountain one step at a time. click below to learn more about how you can make a difference!
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ethical impact of fast fashion

most global brands do not manufacture their clothing in developed countries so it is impossible for us to understand the devastating effects of these manufacturing practices. these factories are not polluting our waters with lethal carcinogens, not sickening our neighbors from poisonous chemicals, not forcing our families into long hours of labor in unsafe conditions, not devastating our communities into extreme poverty – the problem is out of sight, out of mind. we don’t demand transparency from the businesses where we shop but rather participate in the seasonal consumption of the latest trends. the suffering of laborers in second and third world countries is not common knowledge beyond being the butt of a joke about sweatshops and child labor. the fashion industry is booming due to the exploitation of the cheap labor provided by millions of garment workers globally and they get away with it because it happens behind closed doors in dilapidated buildings far away from consumers.

long hours & low wages

the tailored wages report surveyed 20 major brands (like adidas, amazon, gap, h&m, nike, puma, under armour) to see if their manufacturing employees overseas were making a living wage- they produced no evidence that any worker making their clothing was paid a living wage.
factory workers in developing countries like bangladesh are required to work 10-12 hour workdays with those numbers jumping to 18 hour days closer to deadlines. many say they have no choice but to work overtime since their wages are so low and they fear being fired if they refuse. wages are unimaginably unfair with adults sometimes making only $3/day and children even less than that. this cycle of poverty forces parents away from their children for the majority of each day, or even worse leaves parents no choice but to bring their young children in to the toxic environments produced by clothing manufacturing. adolescents often have to go to work at the factories early in life to help support their families, preventing them from getting a proper education.

sexual harassment

from a letter addressed to a local union by female garment workers in india, "the plight of women workers … we don’t have anyone who would listen to us…. we have to hear unbearable abuses at work. we cannot put our names down because we are scared and want to live and work. they won’t let us be if we put our names down. we want justice."
sexual harassment is horribly rampant in the garment industry but hard to define statistically as many factories sweep such reports under the rug out of fear of being penalized by auditors & buyers. the fair wear foundation took a survey of vietnamese female garment workers and nearly half had suffered from some form of violence and sexual harassment which ranged from groping, slapping, kissing and rape. 20% of the women interviewed said they were also fearful during transportation to work and many had been threatened and followed home. 59 countries do not have any specific legal remedies for sexual harassment at work & many women are fired or punished for reporting sexual harassments.

labor exploitation

while many factory employees struggle to make a living wage in a cycle of poverty that offers them no other choice, many workers worldwide are literally forced into labor.
many factories refuse to hire full time employees but rather contract daily workers to create desperation that forces sewists to work for lower wages. in uzbekistan, people are drafted by the government to work in the cotton fields, even schools are closed for months during the harvest season so children can work. the government charges them for transportation to the fields & food, so that often times workers are actually in debt at the end of harvest season. uzbekistan farmers are forced to sell their cotton to the government for 1/3 of the global market price.

disease & health risk

the noyyal river is a sacred vessel that runs through tirupur in india and is so polluted that it can no longer be used for livestock or irrigation. local resident mohan sundaram eswaran said, “that river used to be clean, i could play on the banks of it. now, i cannot even look at it — all for a few dollars we earned. we cannot do that to a river that’s been running for a thousand years.”
cotton farmers and factory workers are subjected to long-term exposure to pesticides, lead-based dyes, and poisoning from chemicals. these toxins can have immediate effects like vomiting, headaches, disorientation and loss of consciousness. long term, workers exposed to toxic environments can suffer from impaired memory, respiratory diseases, extreme depression, seizures, cancer and death. 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile treatment and dyeing with over 400 million pounds of toxic chemicals dumped into water systems annually. this dangerous runoff from dye houses contain heavy metals, formaldehyde, chlorine bleach and known carcinogens like arylamines. 85 % of the daily water needs for the entire population of india would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country.

unsafe working conditions

factories are often dimly lit and poorly ventilated, exposing workers to toxic chemicals & causing them to strain their eyes while toiling away in sweltering heat. many factories are overpacked and undersupplied, with many employees forced to complete their work while sitting on the floor.
since the majority of manufacturing plants are in developing countries, they have looser building codes with compromised building structures that lead to horrifying disasters. the rana plaza building in bangladesh was a major factory that supplied clothing for brands like the children’s place, zara and walmart. the building was knowingly constructed with substandard materials and upper floors were illegally constructed against construction codes. the factory collapsed killing 1,132 people and injuring over 2,500 people with many trapped under the rubble for days. it was the deadliest garment industry accident in modern history. just a year before the rana plaza tragedy, another garment factory in bangladesh, tazreen fashions, burned down and killed 112 people due to the fact that the building did not have any fire exits

what can you do?

you have the power to make positive change!
we know the information about the impact of the fashion industry is overwhelming, but you can only climb a mountain one step at a time. click below to learn more about how you can make a difference!
learn more