Why the Fashion Industry is an Environmental Disaster

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When was the last time you bought a new piece of clothing?

In a fast-paced world, we always seek the next new and best thing. The latest trend. Forget the technology industry been an environmental hazard with the amount of E-waste. The fashion industry moves so fast as trends speed up and the seasons shorten. This is, in turn, damaging our beautiful blue planet. We are not aware of have the inherent knowledge of what is happening when we choose to change our closets.

The whole fashion apparel industry has created other industries. Industries that have flourished as a result. It all begins with the various chains of production and raw material. To the textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping, wholesale and retail. This is followed by its use and in the end, disposal of the garment. The fashion industry opens up opportunities for good business. Yet, the fashion carbon footprint is huge. High profile public figures and even first timers are jumping into the fashion craze. Clothing lines are getting created every day. This is to meet the demand of the ‘never miss a trend’ consumer.

Brands and Retailers of Clothing ©️ Sustainable Apparel Coalition

The textile and clothing industry is one trade that is always on the move. Always with new designs and new ways to make clothing last longer, easy to wear, use and even wash and the most stylish. Today, clothes are even made to last for short time frames. A product that will sell as fast as the next one is in production.

Did you know, natural fibre clothes do not easily decompose even when they are old?

Natural fibres, such as cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo and silk, undergo rigorous processes to become clothing. They go through bleaching, get dyed, printed on and scoured in chemical baths. When disposed of in landfills, the chemicals used can leach from the textiles and end up in our groundwater. Burning clothing items in incinerators or even in the open will release the toxins into the air.

Even for organic cotton, it takes more than 5000 gallons of water to manufacture a T-Shirt and a pair of jeans. Need we mention the shipping process involved to move a garment, even in bulk, from one area to another. Cotton grows all across the world with China being the largest cotton grower. India, United States, Pakistan, Brazil and Uzbekistan follow in chronological order. Cotton is a highly chemical dependent plant using huge volumes of pesticides and fertilizers. When not monitored, these chemicals get into the water table and degrade our soils.

For Synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic and nylon, it is not easy for the environment to contain them. They are a type of plastic made from petroleum. It will take more than 1000 or more years for them to decompose. Micro-plastics from synthetic fibres also end up in our oceans when these garments are washed.

Studies have found microfibers particularly dangerous. The fibres are small enough to easily be eaten by fish, birds and other wildlife. They will accumulate in the gut concentrating within the bodies of other animals higher up the food chain. Plastics also block sunlight required for plankton and algae to survive.

Overall, the clothing industry leads to air pollution, soil pollution and water pollution. This is as a result of the toxins present in the dyes, pesticides, the amount of water used plus the mode of transportation to reach the end consumer.

What We Can Change

Invest in Sustainable Apparel

The fashion industry, from clothing stores and even manufacturers, need to encourage customers to bring in their old clothing for recycling. This should not matter whether the piece of clothing is from that specific brand. The companies collect the old/unwanted clothing and recycle them into new fibres and further into new clothing.

Organic cotton is a sustainable alternative. Though quite expensive to grow compared to conventional cotton is far much better in relation to decomposing properties.

Local industries should be supported by both government and private agencies as well as the citizens themselves. Not only when a product is purchased but also offering recycling capabilites for used garments.

Buy Second-Hand

The second-hand industry in Africa grew after a collapse of most textile industries in Africa in the early 90s.

We could consider second-hand clothing. Although most second-hand clothes are donations with African countries getting the low – grade stuff no else wants. This should change and clothes no one wants should be recycled by the countries who donate.

All countries regardless of first world or developing nations should get the same quality of goods. Africa, as a nation, is not a dumping site for old clothes. If this continues this may be a clothing crisis waiting to happen in a few year or 10 years later.


Upcycling a garment is when it is turned into something new. Old jeans and T-shirts can be transformed into bags. This would be essential as we continue to uphold Kenya’s plastic bag ban. They are a better alternative to the synthetic fibre bags in use. Rugs and mats can be made from T-shirts using Tapestry mats. We only need to be more creative.

Upcycled Jeans: Image Credit

Be the change

We can decide to choose what we buy and where we buy clothing.

This may seem like a first world problem, but it affects the entire planet no matter where we come from. There needs to be more awareness among consumers concerning the effects of the fashion industry. The fashion apparel sector needs to be pushed to be environmental considerate and has a positive social impact.

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Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui is a believer in all things beautiful. A believer in spreading information in regards to environmental awareness. A believer in sharing all that is good in Kenya's natural world. A believer in speaking truth with no boundaries. Do you have a story, photo, experience or message you need to share? Send your work to vicki@nyikasilika.org or vickiwangui26@gmail.com.

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