Understanding the impact of the fashion industry - VILDNIS



The fashion industry is the fifth largest industry in the world, employing 40 million people. In many ways, fashion makes a positive contribution globally, 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 choose to pull out of your wardrobes can make you feel chic, glamorous, sexy, powerful, playful…

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 chic, sexy or glamorous.


  • 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 third world employees.
  • Many workers being paid extremely low wages in developing countries.
  • The pesticides used in fieldwork 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, especially in cotton farming, can dramatically reduce water supply in local communities.


  • Animals like angora rabbits and sheep are sometimes subjected to inhumane treatment, such as plucking or mulesing when obtaining their fur or wool to make yarn for knitwear.
  • 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.
  • Environmental experts predict water use in the fashion industry will lead to scarcity in the future. Cotton farming, the creation of synthetic fibres, the handling of natural fibres and fabric printing and dyeing all demand the greatest supply of water – the production of a single cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water.
  • 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 water, polluting local drinking water and killing off entire species of plants and animals.
  • The transport of fashion products, particularly by air, is also wasteful. 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 source 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, such as paper, pen and dye factories, are located upstream from this site.