The Ecological Cost of Fashion



The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world today just after the oil industry. It affects the environment in many disastrous ways. However, this impact can be controlled and mitigated by adopting better practices. In order to achieve this, it is imperative that the industry as a whole shows a willingness to change.


Threats of Fashion

Apparel manufacturing consumes copious amounts of water in the dying, bleaching, washing, and finishing processes of clothes. This effluent contains toxic substances like arsenic, lead, and mercury among others. In the majority of countries where clothes are manufactured the effluent is released into the sewage and rivers untreated, hence polluting the groundwater table and water reservoirs of these countries.

Another threat is the microfibres released into the water when a synthetic garment is washed. When a garment made out of polyester, nylon, or any other synthetic fibre is washed, close to 1900 microfibres are released. These make their way into the oceans to be consumed by fish hence entering the food chain.

Another way the fashion industry pollutes is by the copious amounts of waste accumulation. Clothes are discarded by consumers in huge quantities. In the case of Fast Fashion clothing from brands like Zara and H&M, trends change very quickly, significantly increasing consumption. Zara is known to launch a new collection every two weeks, this makes for an endless supply of fashion clothing at cheap prices which are then bought and discarded by consumers just as quickly. These clothes then either sit in the landfills or are incinerated, causing further pollution.


What Can Be Done?

The garment industry is a buyer-driven business. Therefore it is up to brands to put strict quality codes into place for the manufacturers to follow. To begin with, they should ensure that their manufacturing is being done in a conscious environment. This would mean proper wastewater treatment, use of natural and organic dyes and fabrics, and minimised finishing processes on garments. Another way brands can contribute is by moving away from the Fast Fashion model and encouraging the recycling of clothes.


The first step towards a more conscious industry is to become more aware and accept the threat an unsustainable industry poses to the environment. Once we accept the need to change, the change will begin.


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