Ever wonder why…fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters?

le Rú looks at fashion’s environmental and social impact. We explore why the industry is one of the planet’s biggest polluters, exploring the steps brands, manufacturers and consumers can take to combat the harmful effects of fast fashion on our planet. Each of us plays a vital role in combating the negative impacts of overproduction and overconsumption. When we stop to consider how and why we consume, we begin to cultivate an awareness that supersedes trends. We forgo thoughtless, “impulse buys”. Instead, we develop mindfulness, when it comes to shopping. 

We ask ourselves, the all-important questions:

Do I truly need this item?”

Can I imagine wearing this piece in 5 or 10 years’ time?

Am I shopping with intention?”

When we buy with purpose, when we choose quality over quantity, we make a conscious effort to consume less. We begin to cultivate a personal style that transcends time and place.

Fashion vs Style

By definition, fashion is not eco-friendly, because of its trend-driven focus. The industry necessitates buying new garments and accessories every season this has a knock-on effect. We forget how fashion harms nature. Manufacturing puts a strain on non-renewable resources, most of all water. Fashion relies on harmful chemicals, which affect rivers, water systems, fish, and soil. Most of all, fossil fuels create carbon dioxide, which affects global warming. As a result, fashion is often at odds with the natural world. However, style, which includes our personal preference and taste, can combat the damaging effects of fast fashion. By cultivating our signature style, we curate a look that does not change dramatically year after year. Instead, we make small adjustments, buying a new handbag or coat, only when we have a need.

It’s not new…

It might be easy to think that modern fashion is largely to blame for the problems with our environment and over-production, but the problem is not new. Since the 19th century, fashion has caused significant harm to our environment. With the industrial revolution, many countries adopted quicker manufacturing processes at the expense of the environment and the health of workers. Disposable income increased significantly during this period and prices fell. This led to a dramatic rise in consumption and pollution.

Unfortunately, the modern textile and fashion industry is still suffering from many of the same issues. The problem has not gone away. It has simply shifted. When manufacturing is outsourced to countries, where labor is less expensive, traceability and accountability drastically decrease. Over 10 years ago, Greenpeace campaigned for big clothing brands to address the environmental impact of fast fashion. Only a handful of companies signed up to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. This represents a mere 15% of brands committed to better supply chains. Progress is frustratingly slow. The real problem rests with consumers. Each of us must educate ourselves on how we can make a difference.

How brands and manufacturers can help

The fashion industry can address overproduction by not only producing less, but also converting waste, reducing carbon emissions, and reducing the water used in the manufacturing process. By reducing or eliminating the toxins in dyeing and finishing processes and developing bio-fabricated materials, we can dramatically reduce the negative effects of the fashion industry on our environment. Using sustainable fabrics will help reduce the number of synthetic materials made in the petrochemical industry. Additionally, designers and manufacturers can use components from local sources, which will diminish transport emissions. Incorporating second-life fabrics and materials, also known as deadstock, will also help diminish waste throughout the fashion industry locally and internationally. Finally, as most of fashion’s pollution comes from unsold stock, brands and retailers must cooperate to diminish unsold merchandise, adopting new and innovative processes of stock plan and control. When possible, brands should create a made-to-order collection to eliminate waste, producing only what customers order, versus what merchandisers and buyers estimate. 

How consumers can help

Consumers can address overconsumption by buying less and more carefully. By looking at fabric tags and buying natural fibers as opposed to synthetic fibers, each of us can help reduce the strain on our oceans and rivers. While it is important to note that some natural fibers have a negative impact on waste and pollution, recycled wools and cashmere represent an eco-friendlier option. When manufacturers wash synthetic fibers, tiny plastic microfibers escape filters into rivers and oceans, which affects not only the water systems but also the food chain. By using more sustainable materials like linen, grown in Western Europe or Italian wool, we can support local industries based on natural, noble fibers.

Each of us can help eliminate waste and the negative impact fashion has on the environment by choosing and looking after the clothes we buy more carefully, wearing them longer, and avoiding purchasing trendy pieces. By having smaller, more thoughtful wardrobes, we can dramatically reduce our personal impact on the environment. Recycling clothes we no longer want and swapping or renting outfits will help reduce our impact. Buying from second-hand shops is another great way to reduce our global consumption and waste from fast fashion. 


To change the industry we must act, brands and consumers, through more conscious choices to have a positive and lasting impact. Each of us can take personal responsibility by buying less and better, opting for pieces that will last a lifetime versus a season. To combat the negative effect of mass fashion, consumers can opt for made-to-order brands versus fast-fashion brands. Avoid buying from brands that operate on fast-moving Instagram storefronts and buying collections produced exclusively in the Far East. This will support a slow, high-quality approach to fashion and design. This sustainable model of shopping not only allows a high degree of personalization but also enduring quality.

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