Fast Fashion and Climate Change

How Fast Fashion Is Hurting Our Planet


If you are a regular reader, you know I am passionate about ethical practices and eco-friendliness in the beauty industry. I aim to buy from brands that use safe ingredients and take steps to produce products while being mindful of the costs of their environmental impact. This is a value I look for not only in beauty but in all aspects of my life. Especially in a closely related industry to beauty – the fashion industry. 

The fashion industry may seem unassuming enough, but it is responsible for 5% of the worlds carbon emissions (1). 5% is a small number, though, right? Well, 5% is also the carbon footprint of the entire country of Russia! The fashion industry has a more substantial effect on global warming than the aviation and shipping industry combined. When I found that out, I was genuinely shocked. 

Global warming is an issue that we all need to start taking responsibility for. This is why I have collaborated with a group of bloggers to write about the causes and solutions in our areas of interest. Check out these other posts to see how climate change challenges manifest in other niches:

What is it about the fashion industry that is wreaking so much havoc? The answer lies in the fact that clothing requires a long supply chain. There is the growing of materials for textiles, the manufacturing, shipping and packaging, and of course, the selling of clothes.

 If you break down each of these subcategories, you can begin to understand just how many resources go into making and selling clothes globally. In this article, we will explore more in-depth the lifecycle of clothing and its impact on our environment 


The manufacturing of textiles is the largest contributor to the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. Did you know that it takes 2,700 liters of water to create one cotton tee shirt? To put that into perspective, it would take a person more than 900 days to drink that much water. Now think of how many random tee shirts you have in your closet. That is a whole lot of resources just for shirts we wear around the house or for working out! Despite what your faucet might say, water is not an abundant resource. Of all the water on the planet, only 1% is drinkable and useable in agriculture. All over the world, and even in the US, access to clean drinking water is challenging. 

The alternative to cotton is synthetic materials, like polyester. Artificial materials are being used in fashion now more than ever. The production of synthetic materials requires a lot of oil resources. Plus, synthetics contain microplastics. These microplastics, like the controversial microbead in the beauty industry, end up contaminating water sources and our oceans.

In my opinion, cotton is a less aggressive material to use in terms of carbon emissions. Yes, the water usage is unsustainable. Still, there are more options in finding sustainable s to grow cotton than there are safe ways to create synthetic materials and curb plastic pollution. Plus, it takes polyester many more years to biodegrade! Along with organic cotton some other sustainable and eco-friendly textile options are:

  • Silk
  • Hemp
  • Linen
  • Tencell/Lyocell
  • Rayon/Viscose

For more information on sustainable fabrics, check out this very helpful guide.


After the materials are grown and sourced, next in our clothing’s life cycle is the manufacturing. The majority of clothes sold in the US are made overseas in Indian or Chinese factories (2). The biggest problem here is that most factories in developing nations still rely heavily on coal and oil to power their factories. This revs up the carbon emissions of clothing in the manufacturing stage.

 Often, the manufacturing of clothes is sent overseas to minimize the cost of production for the companies. While companies do save money and in turn, can sell their clothes at lower prices, they often are using exploitive labor to make products. Working conditions are often deplorable, and wages are minuscule. 

Most famously, in 2013, a factory building called Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers. In the aftermath, dozens of administrators were held responsible for the poor safety conditions of the building. This awful event raised global awareness of how the top clothing brands in the world produce their garments. 

Though not often talked about in relation to climate change, poverty does contribute. Until sustainable living choices become the norm, it is generally more expensive to choose to use greener resources in everyday life. If you are poor you do not have the money to invest in greener energy and will continue to use the cheapest resource like coal and oil.

It is imperative to have a huge industry like fashion pay their employees fairly and help lift their work and life conditions. It is an indirect way that the fashion industry contributes to climate change but an important piece of the puzzle nonetheless.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Not all of the problems with fashion waste are the fault of big clothing companies. We, as consumers, are also to blame. These days, we buy and get rid of clothes at a pace more significant than ever seen before. This concept of quick trends and cheap clothes is called fast fashion. Clothing is not made with the intent of quality but rather to match a trend and to be affordable. Stores like H&M create about 1,000 tons of apparel every two days!

A major reason companies are getting away with practices like these is because we as consumers still buy clothing in high quantities. I am not saying the solution is to stop purchasing clothing. However, we need to be more thoughtful about where our clothes are coming from and how it was made. 

We also have to be mindful of fashion waste. About 85% of clothing is discarded after being purchased. A small percentage of this ends up in-store like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Another small part is recycled for products in other industries like carpeting or insulation. Majority of clothes, however, end up in the landfill. For the extensive resources it requires to make clothing, it’s a shame that most of it is a waste. 

What We Can Do

When you think about the life cycle clothing and how often we buy new clothes, things can feel a little grim. The good news is there are plenty of brands, just like in the beauty industry, that are actively trying to create products with the least impact on the environment.

 ‘Eco Fashion’ is a term you may have heard before or seen on a Pinterest headline, but what does it mean? Eco-fashion is when a clothing company takes intentional steps towards minimizing their impact on the environment. This can manifest in many ways. It could be using green technologies at their factories, using recycled fabrics and materials, or using techniques to conserve water. 

For example, the clothing company Everlane makes the most eco-friendly jeans I have ever read about! The factory that makes the jeans recycles 97% of its water! They have an inhouse filtration system that allows the reuse of water once it’s cleaned. They also collect all the waste or ‘sludge’ produced by the denim and send it to a brick factory, where it can be mix with concrete to make bricks. I don’t know of any product that creates waste that gives back! It’s amazing. But Everlane is not the only company taking these initiatives to make their business practices more environmentally friendly. 

 If you want to change your own buying habits, you can start by doing a little research into the stores you love to buy clothing form. Do they take any steps to be more eco-friendly? Where and how do they produce their apparel?  You can also try to find sustainable clothing brands that are appealing to your style and your budget. Sustainable fashion is no longer a niche movement that is only exclusively available. Mainstream brands and many niche brands are emerging and taking active steps to reform the fashion industry. Change will not occur overnight, but with persistent small steps, we can change the trajectory of wasteful fashion.

To learn more check out my post on 8 Ethical Fashion Brands That My Closet Loves!

Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash


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  1. Nice writing and love it!
    As growing older (haha unfortunately it’s the nature), I find myself start to love more quality-over-quantity items (not only fashion), being more and more minimalist, and also being more conscious about the global problems. I think, at least from a personal point of view, we can try to think twice before buying a clothes by self-checking whether it’s a necessary piece and whether the brand/the production is eco-contributing. Also, we can try to join the great communicate of second-hand or vintage community!

    1. I am so happy this piece resonated with you! I totally agree, it starts with just the recognition that our purchases have power and we can choose to help change the landscape of different industries, like fashion, to be more environmentally friendly. Plus, I think thrift shopping is fun! It reminds me of be younger and actually going to the mall with my friends. I buy so much online these days I don’t actually ‘go shopping’. Thank you for reading and keep sharing and expressing your own view, we all learn from each other!

  2. I love your advocacy as we share the same opinion and perspective. Thank you for this thoroughly researched article, it truly added to my knowledge and inspired me to spread more information about the unknowing dangers the textile industry is doing to Mother Earth. More power to your site!

    1. I’m so happy you found this article informative! Sometimes its the things right in front of us that we cannot see the real consequences of. And yes, express your views, share the information you know because it will make a difference to others!

    1. I am so glad you liked it. It is very important and I think slowly people are starting to ask themselves…where do all my clothes come from???

  3. I love how more and more people are thrift shopping for clothes. Or even looking for gently used on resale apps before purchasing new. I never thought about the wastefulness of clothes until I had children. They go through clothing so quick! It’s not even worth purchasing brand new, so I started buying their clothes second hand. Never thought of the environmental impact of clothes, just from an economic stand point. Love what that jeans company does, pretty cool to see recycling and multi purposed things like that.

    1. That is so true about kids clothing! I am also a preschool teacher and I see how quickly clothes get dirty and torn and how quickly they grow! I think resale apps are great too, I know I have things that are so gently worn that it would be great for someone prednisone else to have, others are probably in the same position. Yes, the Everlane jeans are SO cool. I want to shout it from the rooftops haha that it is possible to reduce waste and still make relatively affordable high-quality jeans ($68). You can read about all of their factories on their website. Thanks for reading, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. It’s so upsetting to see so many cheaply made clothing items being marketed and selling like MAD, knowing that they are going to wind up in a landfill somewhere before long. On a good night, however, I’ve seen a positive shift in the opinion of thrifting and thrift shops recently in my area. Hopefully that’s a sign of a bigger trend.

    1. I totally agree with you! I think opinions are starting to change as well. Another study found that projected revenues for companies that don’t use sustainable practices are projected to go down over the next ten years. Live by the values you believe and we will effect change! Thanks for reading!!

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