When we think of climate change, we think of oil companies,
power plants, pollution… but never the garment industry.
And why would we? What do clothes have to do with climate
change? Well, quite a lot as it turns out...
The global supply chain
It's difficult to put any kind of number or figure on the
garment industry's impact on climate change, because the nature of
the industry itself is so widespread.
With a power plant for example, we can easily see where the
pollution is coming from. They burn X amount of coal, producing Y
amount of gas. With the garment industry, it's more
One t-shirt can have many origins from all over the world. The
cotton may be farmed in the USA for example, the dying in
Indonesia, the sewing in Thailand, and the packaging and
distribution from China.
More than 60% of the world's clothing is manufactured in
developing countries, with one-third coming out of Asia. Clothing
factories are popping up all over in countries like Vietnam,
Bangladesh, and the Philippines, and many of these places don't
have the raw materials needed, so they're often imported from
countries like China, the USA or India.
Once completed, these garments are then transported again by
sea, air and land, all over the world.
This will of course have consequences for the environment, but
it's impossible to specify exactly how because of the nature of the
production chain. Not to mention the immediate health issues, with
one giant container ship producing the same amount of cancer
causing chemicals as 50 million cars.
The rise of fast fashion's impact on the environment
Fast Fashion has exploded onto the scene in recent years, with
brands like Zara, Primark, and H&M turning fashion around as
quickly and affordably as possible.
The rapid growth of these fast fashion brands goes hand-in-hand
with cost-cutting measures, which in turn go hand-in-hand with
With cheaper clothes available, they are easier to discard, with
the United States importing more than 1 billion garments annually from China
The European Union dumps a total of 5.8 million tons of textiles each year in
landfills, with most of these cheap fabrics either taking decades
to decompose, or releasing methane as they do.
Put simply, the more we make, the more we throw away.
How bad is the garment industry's impact?
As we said, it's difficult to put a figure on the industry's
impact - but it's not impossible.
Resources Institute this week estimates that about 5% of
greenhouse gasses come from the apparel industry.
To put that in perspective, that's the same as the aviation
industry, or Russia as a whole.
Clothing designer Eileen Fisher recently claimed the clothing
industry was second only to oil when it comes to global pollution,
and it's not hard to see why; it can take more than 5,000 gallons
of water to manufacture a T-shirt and pair of jeans.
Cotton is the main offender here. Even though it's a natural
fibre, it uses a disproportionate amount of water to grow, and when
you realise that 40% of our clothes are made from cotton, these
figures start to make sense.
What's being done to reform the garment industry?
There is some hope, with top clothing designers such as
Fisher, Stella McCartney and Ralph Lauren trying to reform the fashion
industry to be more environmentally conscious.
The aforementioned Eileen Fisher plans to make her supply chain
sustainable within the next couple of years, but she is only one
Real change needs to come on a global scale, with production
being scaled down, and consumers changing their buying habits.
No matter what the future holds for the apparel business, Image
Label Systems will be there. We pride ourselves on always being at
the forefront of the industry, flexible enough to change with the
times, but strong enough to always stay ahead.
Contact us today if you have any
questions about how we can help your business.