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18 Shocking Fashion Sustainability Facts

2 Feb by Wendy Elsmore

18 Shocking Fashion Sustainability Facts

The fashion industry – while full of magic and transformative capabilities – is also the third-highest polluter of all the industries across the world. While fashion sustainability has crept into the conversation over recent years, there’s still a long way to go.

Air, land and sea pollution, poor working conditions and worker treatment, and unprecedented levels of waste are sadly commonplace in fashion. 

There is a disastrous waste issue throughout the process. From the production phase as garments are made to the consumption phase where we discard or overly wash our clothes, we need change. 

On top of the waste and pollution problems, there is also the undeniable mistreatment of garment workers in the supply chain.

Below, we have gathered some of the most shocking facts to help you understand the impact this industry has on our planet and its people. 

Before we can make a difference, we need to understand where the biggest problems lie. Let’s dive in:

General Fashion Sustainability Facts:  

  1. The fashion industry accounts for 8.1% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. As much as 20% to 35% of all primary source microplastics in the marine environment are from synthetic clothing (according to academic estimates).
  3. By 2030, it’s expected that there will be 148 million tons of fashion waste – an increase of 49% if nothing changes. 

Fashion Production Facts: 

  1. This fashion industry produces 20% of the total global water waste, making it the second-highest user of water   
  2. It takes 7,000 litres of water to produce a pair of jeans
  3. It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the amount of cotton required for one t-shirt 
  4. A polyester shirt has more than double the carbon footprint of a cotton shirt (5.5 kg CO2e vs. 2.1 kg CO2e)
  5. Up to 12% of fibres are discarded on factory floors, 25% of fast fashion garments remain unsold, and less than 1% of products are recycled into new garments. (Ellen Macarthur Foundation)
  6. Fashion production produces more emissions than international plane travel and shipping combined (House of Commons Environmental Audit)

Fashion Supply Chain Facts:

  1. 93% of brands don’t pay garment workers a living wage 
  2. 35% of garment workers surveyed in Bangladesh reported experiencing violence from workplace supervisors
  3. 80% of garment workers are women and they are regularly paid less than their male counterparts
  4. Of 71 leading clothing retailers in the UK, 77% believed there was a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some stage in their supply chain

Consumer Facts:

  1. The utilisation of our clothing has dropped by 36% compared to how much we used our clothes 15 years ago
  2. An increase of 10% in the sale of second-hand clothing could cut carbon emissions per tonne of clothing by 3% and use of water by 4%
  3. Wearing your clothes for an extra nine months could reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20–30% each.
  4. 3 out of 5 new items of clothing are thrown away and incinerated within one year of purchasing. 
  5. Only 4% of consumers in the UK say they “only buy from sustainable clothing brands”


Many changes are needed in order to address overproduction and overconsumption so we can move closer to achieving sustainable fashion. Not only would they help provide a promising path towards global targets, but academics say it will also drive progress on other peripheral problems like transforming business models and establishing linkages between industries so they can work together more effectively for sustainable development outcomes.

The industry may begin waking up this year, recognising that all challenges must be interconnected if we want to have any chance of solving them. Fashion sustainability can no longer be a vogue buzzword, it needs to become a central part of the industry.

One thing is for sure. If we do nothing and wait for someone else to fix it, things will never improve. 

Want to make a difference and embrace greener habits? Check out our Certified Fashion Sustainability Course.

Want to learn more? Here are 3 fashion sustainability Ted Talks worth a watch:

  1. How to Engage with Ethical Fashion | Clara Vuletich 
  2. Fast Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet, & You | Patrick Woodyard
  3. You are what you wear | Christina Dean