Fashion vs environmental crisis

Fashion vs environmental crisis

Just as threads of fiber are woven or combined to create a garment, so too all the elements of the world's ecosystems combine to create a delicate whole. Yet these threads, despite their size, have a great impact on our delicate Planet. Read on how fashion contributes to the environmental crisis and share your thoughts! 

reading time: 8 minutes 

Just as threads of fiber are woven or combined to create a garment, so too all the elements of the world's ecosystems combine to create a delicate whole. Everything that we do as humans impacts the environments around us. Unfortunately, much of what we do has negative results. Human activity has brought us to the worrying and dangerous position we're in right now – facing an unprecedented global environmental crisis. 

We're in a dangerous position – there is no doubt. We have to change, and change quickly. It is not too late to do so, but in order to change, we must understand how we got where we are now, and what we can do to make things better. The good news is that there is plenty that we as individuals can do to survive climate change and help the environment. Understanding how fashion is creating the environmental crisis can help us develop better ways of doing things. This is one key way that we can learn how to make the right choices and move in a positive direction. 

Read on to learn more about the true global impact of each and every fashion choice you make. 

Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash

Fashion's Role in Causing Global Warming

Most of us are by now aware of the huge threat posed to people and planet by global warming. Climate change is caused by the release of greenhouse gases like CO2 – and fashion is an important contributor. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in October 2018 that we have, at the most, 12 years to make the drastic and unprecedented changes needed to prevent a rise in global temperatures beyond the 1.5 degree target of the Paris Agreement. Without significant reduction in emissions, average global temperatures could rise by 5 degrees by the end of the century, according to the US Fourth National Climate Assessment. 

Global warming is threatening all life in earth. Even a small rise causes:

  • A significant increase in droughts and water-shortage.
  • Food insecurity for millions of people.
  • Mass species extinction and a loss of the biodiversity we depend on for life.
  • An increase in life-threatening wildfires and extreme weather events.
  • Warming seas and rising sea levels, which will endanger many world cities.

Every time we purchase new clothes, it is important that we think about how our choices have impacted and will impact our planet. We should think about the entire life-cycle of our clothes, and how CO2 and other greenhouse gases are released at each stage of the process, from the field or factory, to processing and transportation, and even once our clothes reach the end of their useful lives. 

How to Help the Environment:

We can reduce fashion's impact on creating global warming by:

  • Refusing to support those in the fashion world who refuse to change, and withdrawing our financial support from damaging systems.
  • Reducing our overall consumption.
  • Reusing old clothes and fabrics for as long as possible.
  • Repairing old fashion items whenever possible.
  • Choosing recycled/ recyclable/biodegradable options and recycling whenever possible.

Photo by Ramin Khatibi on Unsplash

How Fashion Increases the Strain on the World's Water Cycle

Fashion not only contributes to creating global warming through releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It also increases the strain placed on people and planet by this massive problem. 

Climate change places great strain on the world's fresh water cycle. Fresh water accounts for only 3% of all water on earth, and most of the fresh water on our planet is not available for use since it is locked away in various forms of storage, such as ice and glaciers, or as groundwater. Fresh water is already a scarce resource in many parts of the world, and is becoming an increasing concern on more parts of the globe.

Unfortunately, fashion increases the strain on the world's water cycle in several different ways. The first way in which it does so is by using vast quantities of water in making clothes. For example, on average making just one cotton T-shirt uses the same amount of water as one person might drink in seven years!

The second way that the fashion industry places strain on the world's water cycle is through polluting waterways and contaminating fresh water. Making synthetic fabrics in particular can often involve the use of a number of harmful pollutants. These often make their way into the environment. 

Fashion also places strain on the world's water cycle by contributing to deforestation. Trees are sometimes chopped down to create agricultural fields for the growth of cash crops like cotton. Sometimes deforestation occurs due to unsustainable rayon or viscose production. 

Deforestation not only worsens climate change, it also disrupts the water cycle. Forests are crucial to maintaining the water cycle and ensuring natural precipitation, as well as for storage of water after it falls as rain. Deforestation can significantly reduce rainfall in a given area.

How to Help the Environment:

We can help reduce the strain of our fashion choices on the water cycle by:

  • Choosing natural rather than synthetic fabrics.
  • Selecting organic cotton or other organic fabrics. ( The water pollution impact of organic cotton has been shown to be 98% less than standard cotton production.)
  • Choosing sustainable bamboo fabrics over conventional rayon.
  • Choosing clothing that does not contribute to water pollution. 

Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

How Fashion Increases the Strain on Food Producing Systems

Climate change also places extreme pressure on food producing systems around the world. The clothes that we buy also increase the strain placed by global warming on the world's food producing systems. As climate change continues to bite, we are going to find it increasingly more difficult to feed our planet's population. Unfortunately, land used to provide the raw materials for the clothes we wear often prevents that land from being used to grow food. 

Unfortunately, most of the cotton and other raw materials used in the fashion industry are not grown sustainably. Harmful chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are used, which not only damage the land short term, but can also pose a problem for potential food production on that land in the future. 

We rely on the soil to grow most of the food we eat. But traditional cotton farming and other agriculture associated with the fashion industry, such as sheep farming for example, can damage the fragile topsoil. If we are not careful, topsoil could be lost forever and productivity could fall considerably. 

How to Help the Environment:

We can decrease the strain fashion places on food producing systems by:

  • Refusing, reducing, reusing, repairing and recycling as much as possible. (To reduce the land required to create the clothes we wear.)
  • Choosing organic fabrics that were grown sustainably and did not use harmful pesticides and herbicides in the growth of raw materials.
  • Opting for wool clothing with the Responsible Wood Standard certification, taken from farms where the land is managed sustainably and in as environmentally friendly a way as possible.

Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

How Fashion Threatens Biodiversity in Our Ecosystems

Cotton and other raw materials grown using harmful pesticides and herbicides not only place more strain on our world's food producing systems through damaging the soil. The use of these harmful chemicals, along with other harmful farming practices also threaten the biodiversity of our ecosystems – killing a range of beneficial wildlife, such as pollinators, that we rely on to sustain life on this planet. 

Non-natural, synthetic materials used in fashion pose an even greater risk. The harmful chemicals that often end up polluting the local environment often harm local plant and animal life. Dyes and other treatments used on many clothes can also have a harmful effect. 

Synthetic clothes also pose a risk to wildlife while they are in use. Every time we wash such clothing, tiny pieces of plastic are washed down the drain. These can end up in the environment. Of course, the clothes themselves can also end up in the wider environment at the end of their useful lives. All that waste harms wildlife, and damages the biodiversity of many of the world's most crucial ecosystems.

How to Help the Environment:

To make sure that your clothing choices do not threaten natural biodiversity:

  • Buy and throw away as little as possible.
  • Choose organic options whenever you can.
  • Opt for natural or sustainable semi-natural fabrics over synthetic clothes.
  • Be aware of the dyes and treatments used on your clothes and the impact they have on wildlife.

Photo by Jordan Beltran on Unsplash

Fashion's Role in the Global Waste Crisis

Fast fashion's throw-away approach means that it contributes significantly to the global waste crisis. Synthetic fabrics are particularly to blame, because the clothes made with these fabrics will not naturally biodegrade at the end of their useful lives. Instead, these clothes stick around. They will pose a waste problem for generations to come. 

Every environment and every food-chain and ecosystem on earth is now contaminated with plastic. And synthetic, plastic fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic etc. are part of that problem. Unlike natural fabrics like organic cotton, these items will never go away. 

How to Help the Environment:

Of course, the global waste crisis will not be an easy problem to solve. But when it comes to our fashion choices, we can help by:

  • Understanding what will happen to our clothes at the end of their useful lives
  • Choosing natural clothing options that will decompose.
  • Keeping clothes in use for as long as possible, and reducing the amount we throw away.

Photo by William Navarro on Unsplash

By now the pattern of the weave should be becoming clearer. You should see how the threads of CO2 emissions and energy use, water use, land use, and a throw-away culture all combine to build up a picture of how fashion contributes to the environmental crisis. 

It is important to remember that you, too, are a thread in the tapestry of life on this planet. Your every decision really matters – pull the wrong thread and the whole thing unravels. So make sure that you make the right choices when it comes to your clothes. 

Here at Reloop we take fashion industry interweaving with our planet’s ecosystem very seriously. Yes, sometimes we’re scared of what tomorrow brings, but we also know that we need to do our best, and even more than that, to fight for a better future. And that’s what we’re committed to: to passionately reloop the fashion world, to make Earth a better place to live. Come and join us.


Text by Elizabeth Waddington

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