ECO Alphabet: Week 6: Fashion

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

When you think of pollution you usually think of trash, factory smoke, or oil spills...not the shirts on our backs.

The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil.

Fast fashion is like the fast food of the clothing industry.

Although most clothing companies are based in the U.S., the products are primarily manufactured in developing countries: Asia being the major clothing exporter.

About 22 billion new clothing items are bought by Americans yearly. 2% of those items are domestically manufactured.

The reason for the large amount of pollution is because of the extensive supply chain.

Raw Material -> Textile Manufacturer -> Clothing Construction -> Shipping -> Retail -> Use -> Disposal

This chain includes pesticides in cotton farming, toxic dyes, large amounts of natural resources, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

More than half a trillion gallons of fresh water per year are used in just the dyeing of textiles. That waste water is is then discharged, usually untreated, into near by rivers. (Side note: all rivers lead to the sea).


2.6% of global water use is consumed by the manufacture of Cotton.

Even organic cotton uses 5,000 gallons of water.


Synthetic fibers use less water to manufacture, but they still produce a lot of pollution.

Polyester is made from petroleum. This process is energy intensive, takes large amounts of crude oil, and releases many VOCs.

When these textiles are washed, they shed microfibers (microplastics) into the environment.

The Citarum River in Indonesia is considered the most polluted river in the world due to hundreds of textile factories lining its shores (as well as plastic pollution). It is so severe that the stream can burn human skin...

What is "Fast Fashion" exactly?

Fast fashion is inexpensive designs that move quickly from production to retail stores. This includes cheap textiles, cheap workers in developing countries with very little pay in harsh work environments. They do not keep in mind the use of water, or how they dispose of or where their waste ends up.

Examples of "Fast Fashion" companies:

  • H&M

  • Forever 21

  • Zara

Here is a list of ethical & sustainable fashion brands:

  • Everlane: California, USA

  • Patagonia: California, USA (recycled materials & organic cotton)

  • Alternative Apparel: Georgia, USA (respects & values rights of workers, fair & safe workplace conditions, 70% garments with sustainable materials)

Fashion companies that make apparel out of recycled ocean waste:

Alright! I have given ya'll a lot of links and resources. I know that there are more fashion companies out there with sustainability efforts! Try to hold back when you see a great deal at the mall, and order better quality and healthier products online!


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