As one of the world’s largest consumer industry, the fashion industry has a 1.5 trillion euro market with over 300 million people across its value chain in 20161. The McKinsey Global Fashion Index forecasts the sales growth to nearly triple between 2016 and 2018. Meanwhile, the industry has always been cited as the second most polluting global industry. The argument over this title goes, yet the fashion industry indeed has severe environmental impacts on our planet. Some striking facts are illustrated in the following figure.

Cotton, a most common raw material in the industry, is reported to be responsible for 25% of all pesticides used worldwide and is also considered disreputable for land occupation and heavy water consuming2. The production and processing of textiles also cause a lot of environmental problems. The large volume of water used and some effluent discarded in the finishing and dyeing processes are toxic and difficult to be recycled. Energy depletion and gaseous emissions also cause concern to the public. For example, 342 mJ in a total of energy is consumed to produce 1 kg of nylon3; and 9.52 kg CO2 is released to produce 1 ton of spun polyester4. Besides, there are many other ecological criticism centers on the creation of each fashion item.

Moreover, while the consumption of fashion products rapidly grows year by year, the average lifetime of a garment has been decreased from 6.8 years (T-shirt)5 ) to around 1-3 years6. With countless choices of numerous brands from both physical and digital stores, people do generally buy more and each item will have a shorter useful lifespan. Pioneers for sustainable fashion blame such phenomenon on the fast and ultra-fast fashion modes which have been hugely popular in the recent decade. However, the underlying results are that products tend to have a lower quality and that attention must be paid in terms of sustainability regarding excessive production and consumption, and in particular generation of waste. In the USA alone, more than 15 million tons of used fashion waste is generated each year, and this is still not counting those unused discards7. It is also reported8 that an incredibly high proportion, 85% of the discarded clothes were sent to the landfill or incineration. Although there are different on-going programs in circular fashion, it is estimated that only 15% of the collected fashion waste was reused or recycled. Many those in fashion believe that the situation is much acute since the industry is particularly complicated with thousands of players, rules, standards and statistics involved and it is most challenging and extremely difficult to find out the exact amount of discarded and recycled garments.

The issue on the sustainability of the fashion industry and a total revamp of its ageing supply chain should be seriously handled in no time.

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  5. Langley, E., Durkacz, S., and Tanase, S. (2013). Clothing longevity and measuring active use, WRAP.
  6. Beton, A., (2014). Environmental improvement potential of textiles. European Commission.
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  8. [22-07-2018]