Wearing Pollution: Fashion, Climate Change, and Our Future

Oct 8, 2019 · 4 min read

By +SocialGood Connector Clarisse Joy Mañabat

With the new and different fashion trends coming up, it is tempting to purchase one after another. The fashion industry attracts consumers to buy more, but wear it less — making it the second most polluting industry in the world. It pollutes our water, air, and land.

Fast fashion means producing more clothes frequently and with low cost. It is sped from catwalk to online sellers and physical shop displays.

Mass production is often resource intensive. For example, 200 liters of water are consumed to produce a kilogram of fabric and 10,000 liters of water are consumed to produce one pair of jeans.

In addition to the basic production, we use toxic chemicals to print and dye it. Textile dyeing is the second largest water polluter in the world. One million tons of chemical dyes are used every year, polluting the water bodies and killing marine life. The gaseous emissions brought by harmful chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides pollutes the air. In many ways, the fashion footprint is more hazardous than the carbon footprint.

The #ACTNOW Fashion Challenge was introduced to get more people to commit to zero-waste fashion.

Around the world, it is estimated that between 80 to 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year. However, only 80 billion were purchased and only 20% of clothes are worn regularly. What happens to the remaining 20 billion and 80%? They either collect dust in the closet or end up in the landfills. Every year, 90 million tons of clothing ends up in landfills. Over time, the landfill buildup also starts to produce pollution in the form of methane.

Landfills mountains take the place of natural landscapes.

In rejection of unethical and harmful production of today’s fasion, there is a rising interest in a circular model of fashion production; which reuses, recycles, and reduces materials as much as possible. There are emerging eco-friendly and sustainable fashion brands that serve both fashion and environment.

On September 22, 2019, the 10th Social Good Summit at 92nd Street Y tackled the most important issue of our time — climate change. One of the event’s panels, “ A Wearable Solution, discussed ethical and sustainable fashion. Mara Hoffman, a fashion designer, president and creative director of her own brand, and a recipient of Unifi’s “Leading the Change” award, spoke of her aims to design and manufacture garments with greater care and to reduce impact on the environment. Omar Itani, co-founder of FabricAID, raised awareness about the environmental cost of fashion industry.

Fashion designer and creative director, Mara Hoffman.
Omar Itani, co-founder of FabricAID.

Itani shared FabricAID’s goal to deliver good quality clothing while not harming the environment. The company reduce fabric waste and helps disadvantaged communities in Lebanon and Syria to get more access to good quality clothing at an affordable price. Giving the community a dignified shopping experience is also a goal, through their program people will come to shop and try on clothes without feeling that someone is doing charity for them.

Hoffman shared how her company shifted modes of production after 15 years of operations when they discovered the huge harmful impact brought by fashion. During my offstage interview with Hoffman, she discussed how consumers are becoming more aware of what they wear and the impact it has on the environment. However, she mentioned that while consumers feel more pressure to consider the environmental impact brought by fashion we still need a fashion revolution to change the fashion industry. She also pointed out that the longevity of clothes should be considered since our planet cannot hold our hunger for more.

That’s me! I got to talk to Mara Hoffman a this year’s Social Good Summit.

The idea of choosing what to wear is power, it is a vital part of a sustainable lifestyle and rejects the culture of waste that has helped create the climate crisis. Be part of the community movement that chooses fashion responsibly.


Written by

A global community of changemakers united around a shared vision for a better world in 2030. A project of the UN Foundation in support of the United Nations.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade