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Sustainable fashion looks like another buzzword. It emerged as an antipode to fast fashion, a business model in the apparel industry which suggests short production cycles. Sustainable fashion, on the contrary, is a trend that suggests garments to be made in a way that does not harm ecology. It raises awareness about the damage caused by the fashion industry. So the question is, does this sustainable trend make any difference. To answer it, we can turn to statistics and facts.

Fashion industry and ecology facts 

Apparel production is considered to be one of the most polluting industries in terms of carbon emission, chemicals, and water usage, as well as the release of microplastic. Here are some numbers:The cottonashion industry is responsible for 2.1billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. It is about 4% of the global total (Fashion on Climate Study in 2020, see links below). Earlier numbers suggested that apparel manufacture produce twice as much CO2 emission.

1. With the trend we have now, by 2050 fashion will use up to 26% of the global carbon budget. (Ellen McArthur Foundation)

2. Synthetic clothes are a huge source of microplastics. It is released during washing and takes 200 years to decompose. This makes apparel production the second-largest industry in terms of releasing plastic into the ocean. Clothes are responsible for 20 to 35% of all plastic pollution in the marine environment. (Valuing Plastic report by the United Nation Environment Program)

3. In China, the country that is one of the largest apparel manufacturers, the fashion industry is the second-biggest water polluter as well as consumer of chemicals and the third larger discharger of wastewater (Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing)

4. The global fashion industry discharges 92 million tonnes of solid waster per year. That is about 4% of the worldwide amount of waste. Most of it is textile that comes from the cut-and-sew process. (Pulse of Fashion)

5. Scientists predict that the waste from the fashion industry will increase to 148 tonnes by 2030 if nothing changes. (Global Fashion Agenda)

6. Seven to ten thousand liters of water is needed to grow cotton for one pair of jeans. (Greenpeace)

7. The manufacture of clothes produces 20% of the global waste of water (UN Economic Commission for Europe).

8. A polyester shirt leaves twice as big a carbon footprint as a cotton shirt. 

9. The fashion industry uses over 3,500 different chemicals. Only 16 of them are approved by the Environment Protection Agency.

10. Cotton industry uses 11% of the global amount of pesticides and 24% of insecticides. (UN ECE)

11. Statistics suggest that by 2030, we’ll use 443 million hectares of land to grow plants for textiles. This is 35% more than in 2017. (Pulse of Fashion)

Fashion and social issues facts 

12. Most of the clothing retailers admit there is a likelihood of modern slavery in their supply chains. This means unfair salary, extended working hours, and violations of basic rights for a decent living (Ethical Trading Initiative).

13. Every sixth person on earth is working in the fashion industry of supporting spheres (agriculture, retail, and so on).

14. Most of the clothing factories are located in developing countries. Their workers earn less than three dollars a day. 

Recycling of clothes facts 

15. The world population consumes 80 to 150 billion items of clothes in a year. 

16. That is four times more than 20 years ago (True Cost)

17. Apparel utilization has dropped by 36% compared to 15 years ago. We wear our clothes significantly less (Ellen McArthur Foundation)

18. 300 thousand tonnes of clothes are dumped by UK households every year. 80% of it is incinerated, others go to landfills.

19. An average American toss out 36 kilograms of textiles annually (US Environment Protection Agency). 

20. McKinsey estimated that 60% of apparel items end up in landfills within a year after purchase. 

21. Almost all textiles are recyclable.

22. Only 1 percent of materials used in the fashion industry is recycled into new clothes. (UK Environment Audit Committee)  

23. Recycling used clothes into new materials could save 100 billion dollars every year.

24. Textile waste accounts for 5 percent of landfill space in the United States (US EPA)

25. Despite the fact that recycling is trending, only 15 percent of the population recycle their old garments. 

26. 90% of clothes you donate to charity are sent to landfills or to developing counties. Only 10 percent are sold or put to use domestically. (True Cost) 

27. A small increase in second-hand shopping can lead to a significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions and water waste. WRAP calculated that 10% more sales of used clothes will result in a 3% decrease in climate footprint. 

28. Wearing your clothing for nine more months will down carbon emission and waste production by 20-30 percent. (WRAP)

29. Recycling cotton saves 2,500 liters of water per one T-shirt (WWF)

30. Recycled nylon requires only half the manufacturing steps as compared to making new synthetic fibers. 

31. Car tires can be recycled into durable and eco-friendly shoes.

Waste, pollution, and injustice happen at every step of the fashion cycle: from growing cotton to selling t-shirts for a price of a coffee. All these numbers have turned our attention to the fact that cheap fashion is actually very expensive in a long run. We are starting to be more aware of social and environmental issues and vote for sustainable clothes with our wallets. But what exactly is sustainable fashion?

A road to sustainability 

Sustainable fashion is using ecological and ethical methods to design, produce and sell clothes. This includes more meaningful use of resources, minimization of waste, and fair treatment of workers. The sustainable approach requires a transparent supply chain so that shoppers can see a brand’s impact. Social and environmental aspects come hand in hand. 

A lot of fast fashion companies along with haute couture designers have stated that they are on the road to sustainability. Governments start initiatives to help ethical fashion businesses to develop. The statistics and facts below will show us if it is working.

32. The younger generation is more likely to buy ethical products. 60 percent of millennials prefer to shop for sustainable products.  (Green Living)

33. At least half of customers want the fashion industry to become more sustainable. However, many are reluctant to buy from eco-friendly brands because of the price. Only 30% are ready to pay more. (Nostro survey)

34. McKinsey survey shows that almost 60% of respondents have already changed their lifestyles to decrease their impact on the environment by recycling and buying products in eco-packaging even if it is less convenient.

35. For 67% of survey respondents, sustainable materials are an important factor to purchase. About the same percent want to know if the brand promotes sustainability. (McKinsey)

36. Two-thirds of customers began to spend less on fashion during the Covid-19 pandemic and plan to stick to this level after the crisis passes. (McKinsey)

37. 65% of customers are willing to purchase more durable apparel and 71% stated that they plan to keep the clothing items they have for longer even if it means repairing them. (McKinsey)

38. For almost half of customers, it’s hard to determine whether a brand is truly committed to sustainability. If a company says so, only 23% of customers believe it. (Nostro)

39. Gen Z is most likely to buy second-hand items. 50% of customers of this age surveyed by McKinsey said that they plan to buy more used items to spend less on stylish clothes and to put less pressure on the planet.

40. Patagonia became the first brand that has been making clothes from recycled plastic since 1993.

41. In 2019, 150 brands signed the “Fashion Pact” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, aimed at making the industry more sustainable. 

42. Apparel companies filed 8 times more fiber innovation patent applications in 2019 than they did in 2013 (McKinsey). Fabrics of the future will be more sustainable, made with recycled or organic materials, and produce less waste.

43. The global market of sustainable fashion was valued at $6.35 billion in 2019. It is expected to grow to $8.25 billion by 2023. The expected growth rate is about 9% a year (The Business Research Company).

44. The French government promised to make Paris the world capital of sustainable fashion by 2024. In 2020 the country passed the regulation that makes apparel companies follow about 100 new requirements for better sustainability.

45. Sales of half of the fast-fashion retailers decreased during the pandemic year (Livekindly).

46. Lyst reported about a 37% rise in searches for sustainability-related keywords. Terms like “upcycled fashion”, “second-hand”, “recycled plastic”, “organic cotton” and “vegan leather” have seen the biggest rise.

47. Denmark has seen the biggest growth of searches for sustainable fashion. According to Lyst, its interest in eco-friendly apparel has grown by 114%.

48. Dresses by Reformation, Faithfull the Brand, and Maggie Marilyn are the most searched for sustainable products in the UK. (Lyst)

Sustainable fashion is slowly becoming mainstream. Brands are responding to the changes in customer behavior, government initiatives, and jump in investment. 

At the same time, many fast fashion brands are using customers’ interest in the environment for their misleading advertising. This is called greenwashing. For example, H&M was accused of it for their Conscious collection. Critics say, one collection isn’t enough to wipe out all the damage the fast-fashion brand did to the planet. Using organic cotton doesn’t make a brand sustainable if it is paying its garment workers less than a living wage.

How can we support sustainable fashion? 

If you want to be a part of the sustainability movement, here is what you can do: 

1. Change your shopping habits. You don’t need to spend more money on clothes. For the same amount, you’ll get one t-shirt instead of three, but it will last you way longer.

2. Figure out your style. Trending or discount items are boring and impersonal. By understanding what suits you best, you can save some money and look more interesting.

3. Buy second-hand instead of fast fashion. It may be more time-consuming, but better for the planet.

4. Host a clothing swap. If you don’t like to buy from thrift shops, you can have your friends’ clothes. Invite neighbors and colleagues for a swap party and get rid of jeans you don’t want anymore. 

5. Check brand’s impact policies and buy only if they look good enough. Initiatives like Good on You are helpful for this purpose. 

6. Support local brands. It helps to reduce carbon emissions.

7. Recycle. Whatever you buy, do not just throw unwanted clothes into the bin. 

There is still a lot of work to do to eliminate what has been done. But we can already see that sustainable fashion is not another buzzword. It is a powerful movement, a creative initiative that leads to a better world. But to combat the current level of fashion problems we all need to change our mindsets.

If you like this facts compilation, check out our recent report about fast fashion facts and fast fashion brands list.

Main sources

McKinsey Study
Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report
Valuing Plastic report 
Global Fashion Agenda
UK Environmental Audit Committee 
UN Economic Commission for Europe
Ellen McArthur Foundation report 
Nostro survey report