Environmental movement and the fashion industry

Environmental movement and the fashion industry. Specifically it will discuss the public’s opinion on green products, and how this affects the fashion industry. The fashion industry depends on public opinion, and recently, public opinion has begun to shift toward an interest in green, eco-friendly products, and this includes the fashion industry. Thus, the fashion industry is becoming more environmentally conscious to appeal to a wider, eco-savvy market.

What is eco-fashion, and why is it a growing trend? One writer defines eco-fashions as “identifying the general environmental performance of a product within a product group based on its whole life-cycle in order to contribute to improvements in key environmental measures and to support sustainable consumption patterns” (Claudio). In simpler terms, eco-fashion helps the environment survive while helping the fashion conscious stay stylish and trendy in eco-acceptable ways.

As more people become conscious of the choices they make and how they affect the environment, industries are having to adapt to keep up with consumer trends, and the fashion industry is no different. Consumers are demanding eco-friendly clothing that is far less of a drain on non-renewable resources such as oil. One reporter states, “For example, polyester, the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum. With the rise in production in the fashion industry, demand for man-made fibers, especially polyester, has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, according to figures from the Technical Textile Markets” (Claudio). Now, consumers are looking for alternatives to these unfriendly fabrics, they want renewable fibers like bamboo, soy, organic cotton, and much more. They also want to know that the fabrics they choose are low labor and do not use many natural resources to produce. Things like this were barely even a concern even 10 years ago, but today, a majority of consumers are not only aware of how fibers and fabrics are produced, they are boycotting items that are not eco-friendly, and because of this, the fashion industry have become much more aware and in step with eco-friendly designs. For example, for the past several years, Fashion Week in New York has included many eco-fashions and eco-designers, opening up the field to more consumers and industry professionals at the same time (Belli).

Many manufacturers are listening and creating eco-friendly clothing lines to appease consumers and their consciences at the same time. That is because consumers are learning more about environmentally friendly fabrics, and those that are not so friendly. Claudio notes, “The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease” (Claudio). Polyester has fallen out of fashion in most circles, and the high environmental cost of its manufacture makes it even less desirable to people who are attempting to recreate their wardrobes in an eco-friendly style. Eco-designers know this, and are using natural, renewable products, such as bamboo, hemp, and soy, in a wide variety of designs.

Even if the manufacture of fabrics is eco-friendly, the fibers that create those fabrics may not be. For example, “Cotton, one of the most popular and versatile fibers used in clothing manufacture, also has a significant environmental footprint. This crop accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States, the largest exporter of cotton in the world, according to the USDA” (Claudio). This makes organic fibers much more attractive, and for many people with allergies and other health problems, they are desirable as well. Fibers like bamboo and hemp are natural fibers that can be grown quickly and relatively easily. Bamboo, for example, is one of the fastest growing materials on earth, so it replenishes itself easily. Consumers are demanding more fabric and fiber choices, but worldwide, farmers are recognizing this demand, and so, organically grown products are becoming more readily available and cheaper than ever before. A cotton industry newsletter notes, “The global organic cotton apparel, home and personal care products market topped one billion dollars in 2006, with estimates projecting a tripling of that amount by the end of 2008” (Editors).

There is another reason consumers and the industry should be concerned about eco-fashion. Fashion is adding to the landfills across the nation, as remarkable as that may sound. Claudio continues, “According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste. But this figure is rapidly growing” (Claudio). If clothing can be recycled rather than tossed out, the environment will benefit, but the poor and needy around the world can benefit, as well.

Claudio relates the story of a t-shirt that began life in a U.S. city, and ended up half way around the world on a young African man, indicating just how powerful recycling and clothing donation can be. Recycling saves natural resources, like the cotton used to produce the t-shirt, but it also saves the resources that were used to create the t-shirt, everything from electrical power to the chemicals and other products used throughout the process. Thus, the fashion industry can be a catalyst for real change, because it is such a huge industry, with huge impacts, as well.

Another aspect of the fashion industry that is now coming under scrutiny by an environmentally sensitive audience is how clothing is produced. Some clothing, such as the polyester discussed earlier, uses quite a bit of energy and chemicals. Other natural crops use quite a bit of water and chemical fertilizers. The dyeing process also uses a wide variety of chemicals that can be extremely harmful, especially to people with allergies and certain other health conditions. Once the fabrics are produced, they are manufactured into a variety of garments, and the manufacturing process most often uses non-renewable energy sources, and often subjugates foreign factory workers as well. In addition, the finished item has to be laundered or dry-cleaned numerous times throughout its life, adding even more non-renewable energy to the equation.

There is one dramatic way to see the fashion industry is listening to the concerns about fabrics, fibers, and manufacture. Even large companies are jumping on the eco-fashion bandwagon. The Coca-Cola Web site offers dozens of eco-friendly jewelry, clothing, and accessories created from old Coke bottles to used vinyl billboards. All of these items would have ended up in landfills, or hopefully recycling bins, but now they are being reused in imaginative and fashionable ways. Pure social conscience would not drive most companies like these to alter their thoughts on recycling and eco-fashion. Instead, consumer demand is altering these companies and their products, because more people are demanding products they can feel good about and enjoy at the same time.

Many clothing lines are adding green clothing lines, as well. Guess has organic t-shirts, jeans produced domestically or overseas, and Levi’s Jeans offers a line of organic cotton jeans, as well. They are only a few inside a growing trend. In addition, many clothing designers, including many well-known names, are creating their own lines of designer organic and eco-friendly fashions, and many designers now deal exclusively in these areas.

All of these issues are concerns for modern consumers, and that translates to their looking for alternative sources of design, construction, and use in their fashions. Another writer says of the modern fashion industry, “We have seen expansion all the way into high-end designer looks down to Wal-Mart. This is what I see as true growth” (Belli). When stores like Wal-Mart begin to go “green fashion,” it is certainly not because of any strong environmentalist tendencies. Wal-Mart is still the biggest importer of Chinese manufactured goods in the world, and most of these products are decidedly eco-unfriendly. When a company such as Wal-Mart goes green, it is because they see a profit in it, and customers are demanding it, and that is the case with the fashion industry, as well.

In conclusion, the fashion industry is becoming much more eco-friendly largely because of consumer demand. People are becoming increasingly aware of just what goes into the products they consume, and they are demanding new products that use less energy to produce and use eco-friendly fibers and fabrics, as well. The public is becoming much more aware of environmental issues such as global warming and climate change, and it seems that the demand for eco-friendly products, including fashions will continue to rise. Smart fashion designers and companies will jump on this growing trend. They need to take the earth and its survival into consideration, but even more than that, they need to continue to fill consumer’s shelves to be successful. Creating eco-fashions that meet consumer concerns and yet are still stylish and wearable just makes good fashion and business sense.


Belli, Brita. “The Eco Fashion Revolution: Getting Consumers to Care about What They Wear.” E. Sept.-Oct. 2007: 26+.

Claudio, Luz. “Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.” Environmental Health Perspectives 115.9 (2007): 448+.

Editors. Sustainable Innovation: Cultivating Growth and Prosperity through Collaboration. Organic Exchange, Volume 4, Issue 1, March 2008. 1-8.

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