Fashion industry vs. the environment: Is green the latest trend?

The manufacturing of clothing has a huge footprint and is a major consumer of energy and natural resources.
by Reem Khamis

1 March 2019 | 12:02

Source: by Annahar

  • by Reem Khamis
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 1 March 2019 | 12:02

This photo shows a model on a runway. (AFP Photo)

Once again, it’s Paris Fashion week, bloggers and fashionistas are heading to one of the big four world capitals of fashion to attend shows and promote new trends. Latest collections are displayed to the media, and buyers are tempted to follow the trend and buy new items to wear fashionable outfits.

Today, we live in a fast fashion culture; each season, new colors and styles are in. Mass production has made clothing items available on the market for affordable prices. Moreover, social media has increased the pressure on teenagers and young adults to buy more of those new items because who wants to be photographed wearing the same outfit twice?

Fashion commerce is a vibrant and growing industry and is important to the world’s economy. It employs hundreds of millions of people worldwide and generates substantial incomes. But are we really aware of the impacts of our consumerist fashion culture on the environment?

The clothing industry has major impacts on our planet. It exerts great pressure on natural resources throughout the entire life cycle of an item from manufacturing it, to cleaning it and, eventually, to throwing it away. 

The manufacturing of clothing has a huge footprint and is a major consumer of energy and natural resources. The production of garments is believed to be responsible for cutting down more than 100 million trees yearly. Moreover, according to National Geographic, the fabrication of a single cotton shirt consumes around 2700 liters of water, which is equivalent to how much water an average person uses in two weeks.

According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, the fashion industry is responsible annually for 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, trapping the heat in the atmosphere and causing global warming. As a case in point, producing and washing one pair of jeans releases the same amount of CO2 as driving 110 Km. 

Scientific researchers have concluded that washing synthetic items releases plastic microfibers, which are released and accumulate into seawater and are consumed by sea creatures. Human beings are thus indirectly impacted as micro-plastics eventually enter the food chain.

In our fast fashion culture, garments are worn only a few times and are considered rather disposable. According to McKinsey, almost 60% of clothing items bought are discarded within a year. Every second, 12 to 14 tons of textile garbage is thrown away. As a case in point, New York City incinerates or puts into landfill more than 20 million dollars’ worth of textiles every year.

The situation is alerting as the fashion industry and consumerist trends show no signs of slowing down. However, the impacts of the environment can be reduced if producers reconsider their business models.

For instance, manufacturers could use less synthetic fabrics, and instead, use more natural fiber and recycled textiles. Fashion stores could provide a corner to recollect unwanted items or textiles for reuse or recycle. Second-hand markets and clothes rental stores are examples of sustainable businesses inciting the re-use of fashion items.

Policies could be designed to support a new textiles economy. For instance, incentives could be placed to incite textile collection and the development of sustainable fashion businesses.

Moreover, people should control their buying. Raising awareness and addressing the topic might influence people to purchase fewer items. Instead of throwing away unwanted clothes or textiles, one must consider recycling them, selling them or donating them.

Shoppers are the motors of textile production industries. When they become aware of their consumptions and reduce their buying and demand change and transparency from producers, the latter will be forced to change their business models and make them more sustainable to survive a highly competitive economy. However, if people keep on following this fast fashion culture, the pressure on the environment is likely to increase.  

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Reem Khamis graduated from the Lebanese American University with a bachelor of Architecture and earned her Master's degree in Environmental and Energy Management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Her thesis focuses on urban resilience and climate change adaptation in megacities using a comparative approach of Cairo, London, and New York.

Khamis is currently undergoing her Ph.D. studies in Environmental and Energy Solutions at the University of Pau and Pays de L'Adour in France, focusing on climate change adaptation in medium-sized European cities.

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