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  • Mila Talati, AIT

The Fashion Industry’s Not-So-Secret Impact

When thinking about industries that contribute the most carbon emissions, the oil and fossil fuel industry usually comes to mind. The fashion industry, however, is an unexpected runner up when it comes to global carbon emissions. Although most don’t realize it, the fashion industry has disastrous effects on the environment via carbon emissions, wastewater, and textile production. With the help of its overwhelming number of shopping-addicted consumers, the fashion industry’s environmental impact is steadily intensifying.

With the popularization of fast fashion, consumers are growing accustomed to always having new clothes and styles. The process is simple: pay for a cheap garment, wear it a few times, discard it and start all over again. Constant rises and falls of different trends cause customers to always look for new styles and outfits, which is why they turn to fast fashion for cheap, trendy clothes. This leads companies to increase textile, goods, and merchandise production rates to keep their inventory stocked and prepared for mass amounts of orders every day. These numbers continue to rise, along with carbon emissions and wastewater that come along with these production processes. Clothing production is projected to triple by 2050, and has already doubled since the year 2000, which is more alarming than one realizes.

The main contributor to the fashion industry’s negative impact is textile production. In 2019, the House of Common Environmental Audit Committee reported that, “Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined.” The ever growing fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions; this number is likely to double by as soon as 2030. Although this number may not seem all that large, it means that all the other industries in the world account for the remaining 90%. The more consumers buy, the more textiles companies are required to produce in order to keep up with the demand, which increased so much that in 2018, the amount of carbon emissions from the fashion industry alone was larger than those of France, Germany, and the UK combined. As long as consumers continue to fuel their shopping desires, the fashion industry will continue to add to the growing carbon emissions problem.

Constant production of new textiles increases carbon emissions, but that's not all. 20% of global wastewater comes directly from the fashion industry. The dyeing processes of fabrics are responsible for over 17% of industrial water pollution, contributing chemicals, microplastics, and other harmful substances into all bodies of water. The microplastics from these landfill-bound textiles have negatively affected not only the environment, but sea life and even humans as well. It has been estimated that the average American can consume around 74,000 microplastics a year, 35% of which come from the fashion industry. Additionally, reports have shown that the average lifespan of a garment has decreased by 36% in only the past 15 years, causing roughly 92 million tons of clothing to end up in landfills yearly. Textiles continue to harm the environment, especially as consumers buy more and more products without thinking about the consequences.

Although the way to prevent the fashion industry’s environmental impact would be to completely stop producing textiles and clothing, this is not possible. However, the numerous consumers of the fashion industry can most definitely help. The key in playing a positive role as a fashion industry consumer is to conserve and be aware. Although someone throwing out a couple of shirts here and there to make room for new ones may not seem all that important, this person is just one in a sea of people doing the same. Something this small still contributes to a company’s motivation to increase production rates, and consequently, carbon emissions. So, while companies themselves are unquestionably responsible for the negative impact on the environment, consumers are still encouraging them. By simply spending a couple more dollars on a more durable, environmentally friendly garment, or just wearing a shirt a few more times, a single person can make a huge difference on the environment. Instead of throwing clothes out when they no longer have use, donating them can go a very long way. Giving outgrown clothing to friends or younger family members saves them the money and saves the environment from needless harm. Buy from thrift stores, or take the extra minute to find a sustainable brand and avoid wasteful fashion brands such as Shein, Romwe, and Mango. Though the fashion industry as a whole has disastrous effects on the environment through carbon emissions, textile productions, and wastewater, consumers still have the power to prevent avoidable harm to the environment by conserving clothes and shopping smart.

Works Cited

Astoul, Eva. “A List of Fast Fashion Brands to Avoid & Why.” Sustainably Chic, Sustainably Chic, 11 Aug. 2022,

Cho, Renee |June. “Why Fashion Needs to Be More Sustainable.” State of the Planet, Columbia Climate School, 10 June 2021,

CNN. “Fashion's Impact in Numbers.” CNN, Cable News Network,

Darmo, Jennifer. “20 Hard Fast Fashion Facts and Statistics Good on You.” Good On You, 27 July 2020,

Fuller, Kylie. “The Truth About Shein: How Sustainable and Ethical Is the Fast Fashion Brand?” Brightly, 18 Oct. 2022,

Igini, Martina. “10 Stunning Fast Fashion Waste Statistics.” Earth.Org, Earth.Org, 2 Aug. 2022,

NYC International Business. “Fashion Industry.” NYC International Business,

United Nations. “Causes and Effects of Climate Change.” United Nations, United Nations,

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