Fast fashion industry
The fashion industry may account for up to 10 per cent of global greenhouse pollution.​​​​​​​

The vast cost of fast fashion

​The fashion industry may account for up to 10 per cent of global greenhouse pollution. Up to 92 million tonnes of waste and 79 trillion litres of water are consumed per year in order to make garments. A system-wide transition is needed immediately to reduce environmental costs of the fashion industry, a new study from Chalmers and other international universities concludes.
​Fundamental changes to the fashion business model, including an urgent transition away from 'fast fashion', are needed to improve the long-term sustainability of the fashion supply chain, argue the authors of a new article just published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, a new online journal launched in 2020 within the prestigious Nature family of scientific journals.

The study was led by Aalto University professor, Kirsi Niinimäki, together with Chalmers' professor, Greg Peters, from the Department of Technology Management and Economics, and researchers from four other international universities.

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries and may account for up to 10 per cent of global greenhouse pollution. However, the industry continues to grow, despite rising awareness of the environmental impacts, in part owing to the rise of fast fashion, which relies on cheap manufacturing, frequent consumption, and short-lived garment use.
The authors identify the environmental impacts of the fashion supply chain, from production to consumption, focusing on water use, chemical pollution, CO2 emissions and textile waste. For example, the industry produces over 92 million tonnes of waste and consumes 79 trillion litres of water per year, with developing countries often bearing the burden for developed countries. These impacts highlight the need for substantial changes in the industry, including deceleration of manufacturing and introduction of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain, the authors say.

"Slow fashion is the future", the authors conclude, but "we need a new system-wide understanding of how to transition towards this model, requiring creativity and collaboration between designers and manufacturers, various stakeholders, and end consumers."

A joined-up approach is required with the textile industry investing in cleaner technologies, the fashion industry developing new sustainable business models, and policy-makers modifying legislation. Consumers also have a crucial role and must change their consumption habits and be ready to pay higher prices that account for the environmental impact of fashion.

Solutions presented in this graph

Figure retrieved from the article 'The environmental price of fast fashion'.

Key points
  • The textile and fashion industry has a long and complex supply chain, starting from agriculture and petrochemical production (fibre production) to manufacturing, logistics and retail.
  • Each production step has an environmental impact due to water, material, chemical and energy use.
  • Many chemicals used in textile manufacturing are harmful for the environment, factory workers and consumers.
  • Most environmental impacts occur in the textile- manufacturing and garment- manufacturing countries, but textile waste is found globally.
  • Fast fashion has increased the material throughput in the system. Fashion brands are now producing almost twice the amount of clothing today compared with before the year 2000.
  • Current fashion- consumption practices result in large amounts of textile waste, most of which is incinerated, landfilled or exported to developing countries.
Niinimäki, K. Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T. and Gwilt, A. (2020) The environmental price of fast fashion. Nature Reviews; Earth and Environment.

More information

Kirsi Niinimäki, Associate Professor, Department of Design, Aalto University 
Greg Peters, Professor at the Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers
Adopted press release from Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.

Page manager Published: Tue 30 Jun 2020.