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How Fashion Affects the Environment

Fashion has a huge affect on our environment. Here are some of the ways our planet is being impacted on a daily basis by the fashion and textile industry.

The environmental impact of the fashion industry is crippling. Fashion affects the environment in a huge way and it is the second largest polluter in the world coming in second place to oil. Most people don’t realize that the clothing they wear is made with toxic chemicals, consumes many of earth’s natural resources, contributes to water pollution, and affects greenhouse gas emissions. Our carbon footprint is constantly growing and fashion plays a huge part in this. Here are the main aspects as to how fashion affects the environment.

Water Use

Cotton crops, of course, are one of the main contributors to the fashion industry, and fashion affects the environment by taking a huge toll on cotton farmers and cotton production. While fashion may be keeping cotton farming alive, this isn't a plus for our environment because cotton production is extremely water intensive. Even if it is organic cotton, it can take up to 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture one outfit. So, while cotton crops may seem alright for the environment only because they use less chemicals, they still use plenty of water.

Oil Use

On the other hand, fashion affects the environment when cotton is exchanged for polyester, because oil is used instead of water in this form of textile production. Around 70 million barrels of oil are used each year by textile manufacturers to produce polyester products for the fashion industry. This has a hugely negative environmental impact, now more so than ever given that the 10 things Trump has undone include environmental protections. 


Both cotton and polyester products in the fashion industry are dyed with toxic chemicals. These toxic chemicals contribute to water pollution in a devastating way. Fashion affects the environment across many different facets, but textile production and textile manufacturers are the main contributor. These supply chains are set up throughout developing countries and are the powerhouses of the fashion industry. They are consuming natural resources at a frightening rate and polluting the planet at the same time.


Fashion affects the environment with the increased use of plastic as well. This plastic ends up polluting our oceans and endangering our marine life. Polyester, when washed, sheds small pieces of microfibers that increases the levels of plastic in the ocean and adds to ocean pollution. This plastic is not biodegradable. Marine life ends up eating these tiny pieces of plastic, and they die from the effects it has on their system. Companies need to work together to find a solution to the problem of plastic in clothing. It may seem minuscule, but it is a huge problem. 


Because much of the fashion industry’s production is done through textile manufacturing in developing countries, the products must be transported overseas to get to the United States. Fashion affects the environment through transportation in this way by greatly increasing our carbon footprint with airfare and freight.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Building on how fashion affects the environment through transportation, overall, the fashion industry simply has a huge carbon footprint and releases an enormous amount of greenhouse gases. With transport and shipments, the estimate is that about five percent of global greenhouse gases come from the fashion sector, which is huge. With greenhouse gas emissions increasing at this rate as well as carbon dioxide increases, the outlook of climate change is not going to be a good one. 


Fashion affects the environment in a crucial way when it comes to garment workers in developing countries. These sweatshop workers are working in textile production factories for low wages, because they are desperate for money. These conditions are inhumane and allow for the fashion industry to continue to grow. Not only is the natural environment being polluted by the fashion industry, but the social environment of developing countries is being polluted as well. These men and women are working for our vanity and convenience. We need to know better fashion business ethics

The Cost

Fashion affects the environment in a huge way because of how much it costs and how much it makes. The fashion industry makes around $1.2 trillion dollars a year and $250 billion dollars a year is spent annually on fashion production. Because the cost of fashion is so high, the effect of fashion on our environment is high. Without fashion being around, a lot of people may not have jobs, and a lot of money would not be present in our society. You could say this is one positive way that fashion affects our environment.

Biggest Culprits

Some of the biggest culprits that contribute to the way fashion affects our environment in a negative way are companies that are into “fast fashion.” Mass produced clothing made with cheap polyester materials are made quickly and turned over so that customers will buy them frequently. Companies such as H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 are some of the biggest names in fast fashion. Consumers love them, and consumers are the culprits contributing to the problem as well. 

What You Can Do

Everyone plays a part in contributing to the pollution of the planet and fashion affects the environment in a very major way. If we work together, as consumers and manufacturers, to do better, then we can make a difference and improve our carbon footprint, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and more. Organic cotton and recycled polyester are a start, but also, wearing our clothes for longer and shopping less is a great way to make an impact. Just check out these 15 inventive dresses made from recycled materials!

Textile manufacturers can do better by using recycled materials such as plastic bottles in their textile production. They can also try to use less toxic chemicals, work with companies to reduce water pollution, and simply be more mindful of the pollution they are causing to our environment. If we aren’t aware of the way fashion affects the environment now, we will all regret it later when our earth dissolves and our children can’t survive on this planet. 

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