The fashion industry is the fifth industry in the world, employing approximately 75 million people globally. In many ways, fashion makes a positive contribution, particularly in developing nations where jobs in fashion are accessible and plentiful. On a more immediate level, clothing gives us warmth and creates a unique platform for self-expression. What you pull out of your wardrobes can, and should, help to make you feel cool, sexy or glamorous.

But current practices within the fashion industry are also a major contributor to global environmental and social issues. The following examples of fashion’s impact highlight the darker side of the industry. Definitely not cool, sexy or glamorous, however you try to dress it up.


  • Many supply chain workers face appalling working conditions. Small cramped rooms, poor air ventilation, poor access to clean water, forced overtime and extremely low wages are commonplace for textile workers in the developing world.
  • Many workers are paid extremely low wages in developing countries. National minimum wages are rarely enough to cover the basic needs of a family, meaning families often face having to choose between food or medicine when sick
  • The pesticides used in the fields, when growing cotton for example, and the chemicals used in dyes significantly increase some workers’ risk of serious illnesses such as cancer and respiratory diseases. These same chemicals often pollute the drinking water of communities located near factories.
  • Overuse of natural resources can dramatically reduce water supply in local communities.This is especially the case when it comes to cotton farming.


  • Animals like angora rabbits and sheep can be subjected to totally inhumane treatment, such as plucking or mulesing when obtaining their fur or wool to make yarn for knitwear. Silk worms are boiled alive to obtain long fine filament fibres for delicate clothing items.
  • Many forests are destroyed to make more space for farmland to create rising demand for leather, cotton and other materials, destroying the natural habitats of countless animals.


  • Cotton farming accounts for approximately 16% of the global pesticide use. It’s not nearly as natural as we are led to believe.
  • Environmental experts predict water use in the fashion industry will lead to scarcity within the next 20-30 years. The production of a single cotton t-shirt typically requires 2,700 litres of water. Other water-intensive processes include the creation of synthetic fibres, the handling of natural fibres and fabric printing and dyeing
  • Fashion production still relies excessively on pollution-causing non-renewable energy. Once again, the creation and handling of fibres, knitting and weaving of fabrics and printing and dyeing processes have the greatest energy demands.
  • The majority of the chemicals and toxins used in fashion production are released into the ground and waterways, polluting local drinking water and killing off entire species of plants and animals.
  • The transport of fashion products, particularly by air, is also problematic. Air freight is most common in fast fashion, with 1kg of clothing releasing 50 times more carbon by air transport compared to sea transport.
  • In the UK alone, our buy and throw-away mentality results in 350,000 tonnes of clothing going into landfill in a single year.

The facts are eye-opening, but the good news is that there are plenty of ways to minimise fashion's impact on people, animals and the planet. Read more about it here.

Photography: Greenpeace
Caption: The Tullahan River (running between the cities of Caloocan and Valenzuela) turns pink and purple as foam from unknown sources covers part of the river. People living in the area say that the formation of effluent in different colours occurs almost every day. Residents along Tullahan river have noted a multi-coloured effluent in the river water, rocks and banks. Several industries, including dye factories, are located upstream from this site.