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The Impact of Sustainability on the Apparel Industry

  • 6 min read
  • Blog

It’s no secret that the apparel industry influences how people dress and present themselves. Marketing campaigns associate certain styles or brands with particular lifestyles, all of which shape how consumers want to be perceived by themselves and others.

Not only does the apparel industry play a significant role in shaping consumer preferences and self-presentation, its impact on the environment can not be ignored. Consumers have become more aware of environmental responsibilities, prompting manufacturers to embrace sustainability measures in response to growing concerns.

Sustainability is about producing and consuming clothes in a way that protects the environment and the people involved in making them. The practice prioritizes environmental and social factors throughout the entire creation process, from sourcing materials to manufacturing. This includes ensuring the well-being of workers and providing fair compensation.

This article explores the impact of sustainability on the apparel industry and how companies can keep up with the trend.

A Balancing Act: Fast Fashion and Sustainability

The apparel industry and its consumers enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The World Resources Institute found that approximately 20 pieces of clothing per person are manufactured annually.

Many manufacturers practice “fast fashion” to rapidly produce affordable clothing items to meet ever-changing consumer demands. The premise is that consumers seek fashionable attire at a budget-friendly price. Although garments are often made with less attention to quality, they are not designed for long-term or repeated use. One report found that many consumers treat their clothes as disposable objects, discarding them after just seven or eight wears.

Fast fashion is the enemy of sustainability and yet apparel companies must do their part to address these pressing issues and transition towards more viable production methods. Both ideas must coexist to appease brands, their customers, and the earth.

The Apparel Industry’s Impact on the Environment


The apparel industry ranks as the second-largest consumer of water globally, accounting for 20 percent of total water waste. To put it in perspective, cotton is one of the most common natural fibers used to make clothing if not the most common. Manufacturing a single cotton shirt requires 2700 liters of water, equivalent to the amount a person drinks in 2.5 years.

Cotton production can cause significant harm in regions already experiencing water stress. In Central Asia, for example, cotton farming has nearly eradicated the Aral Sea. Additionally, The dyeing process for fabrics uses toxic chemicals, contributing to around 19% of worldwide industrial water pollution.

Climate Change

The cutting of trees and the emission of greenhouse gases worsen climate change. Trees absorb CO2 and act as carbon sinks. Cutting trees disrupts this process, raising CO2 levels. Greenhouse gases trap heat, causing global warming, with severe consequences like melting ice caps, extreme weather, and biodiversity loss.

The fashion industry’s demand for wood pulp, required to produce fabrics like rayon and viscose, leads to the annual felling of 70 million tons of trees. This figure is projected to double by 2034. Also, estimates suggest that producing 1 kilogram of fabric produces an average emission of 23 kilograms of greenhouse gases.


Clothing manufacturers generate substantial amounts of waste, including textile waste from manufacturing processes and unsold inventory. Consumers play a part also by discarding clothes. The disposal of textile waste in landfills not only pollutes the environment but also occupies landfill space.

Some consumers in low-income countries keep their clothing longer than others. In the United States, clothing is typically worn for only about a quarter of the global average duration. Each year, 85 percent of textiles, equivalent to 21 billion tons, are disposed of in landfills. Due to materials and ineffective processes, less than 1% of used clothing is recycled into new garments.

Plastic Pollution

Researchers have recognized the apparel industry as a significant contributor to plastic pollution in the ocean. This concern is escalating due to the associated adverse environmental and health effects. It is estimated that approximately half a million tons of plastic microfibers, shed during the washing of polyester, nylon, and acrylic, find their way into the ocean every year.

What Can the Apparel Industry Do to Practice Sustainability?

Assess impacts

Companies measuring their environmental impacts gain insights into areas needing improvement. They can identify operations with negative effects, enabling prioritization of efforts. Tracking sustainability initiatives ensures ongoing progress and keeps efforts on track.

Reduce waste

The sustainability of a clothing item often relies on decisions made during its design stage. By implementing new strategies, waste can be significantly reduced from the very beginning. Zero waste pattern cutting, for instance, arranges pattern pieces on fabric like a jigsaw puzzle, effectively minimizing the amount of fabric that typically goes to waste on the cutting room floor during production.

Use eco-friendly materials

Many brands are choosing to use natural materials such as hemp and bamboo as alternatives to cotton. Bamboo, in particular, is being promoted as a sustainable fabric because it grows quickly and requires less water and pesticides. Some manufacturers are opting for organic cotton, which is grown without the use of toxic chemicals. Manufacturers are also utilizing fibers from agricultural waste like leaves to produce textiles.

Develop technology

Companies should actively support the development of mechanical and chemical recycling technologies. Improved technology can help reduce the industry’s environmental footprint by enabling more efficient use of resources during the production process. This can minimize waste and pollution. New technologies can also create new materials and manufacturing techniques that have a lower impact on the environment.

Encourage consumers to get involved

Consumers can play an active role in driving sustainability. They just need to be encouraged to repair clothing instead of throwing damaged items into the trash, donate items that are no longer in use, and buy only what they need.

Why Should the Apparel Industry Practice Sustainability?

The apparel industry should practice sustainability to meet consumer demand for eco-friendly products, which drives innovation and investment in sustainable practices, materials, and technologies. Doing so can create an ecologically responsible future and more revenue by attracting a growing market of environmentally conscious consumers.

Sustain Your Brand’s Growth

Creating sustainable products is only half of the challenge. The other half lies in getting them into the hands of your customers.

In today’s competitive business landscape, unifying every ecommerce element has become essential to ensure a satisfying customer experience. By centralizing data, companies can identify errors, eliminate duplicates, and enhance product data, thereby improving the overall customer experience.

Consolidating product data into a product information management solution like StoreAutomator often reduces data entry time and minimizes associated typos and produces detailed and accurate product descriptions. Customers can quickly find the products they want, resulting in reduced returns and minimal associated costs.

Brands that partner with StoreAutomator can easily manage and optimize product information across multiple channels. This feature alone can lead to increased visibility and sales. From a single location, brands can list products across multiple channels, modify product descriptions that sync to channels, create competitive pricing rules, gain control over order management, reduce carrying costs, automate fulfillment, accelerate shipping, monitor store performance, and establish a multi-vendor marketplace.

Book a demo to change how you look at business today.