Fashion and the Environment

A major issue in the Clothing Industry is Environmental Damage from Solvents used in Dry Cleaning - Simon LawA major issue in the Clothing Industry is Environmental Damage from Solvents used in Dry Cleaning –Simon Law
The greening of fashion. Tips to live by and future trends.

The nature of the clothing industry has been affected by the green movement for some time now. So what are the environmental impacts of the production, buying and maintenance of clothes?

Manufacturing and Retailing

Back in 1990, as pointed out by Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson, Esprit took steps in the green direction: their catalogue’s introduction “contained a lengthy monologue proclaiming Esprit’s environmental concern.” At the time, Esprit was what Paul Davidson of USA Today might call a “maverick” company. In March of 2009, Maura Judkis reported in US News that five well known clothing stores- Victoria Secret, Target, H&M, Banana Republic, and Nike- were going green by using organic fabrics.

Esprit took the following steps in the green direction:

  • not bleaching cotton products and using biodegradable enzyme washes to soften and smooth fabrics
  • using chemical-free processes to stop clothing from shrinking in the washer and dryer instead of using formaldehyde
  • using tagua-nut buttons made from the tagua nuts instead of plastic buttons
  • using organically grown cotton to cut out the use of artificial chemicals
  • using low impact dyes to cut out heavy metals and cut down on water use

Other companies have followed into the green mode by using recycled products and organics. For instance, eco friendly companies, such as the Spanish company b-love, recycle waste fibers and spin them into new yarns with the intent of using waste to make quality apparel items to get into new and fashionable clothing. Their products are often finished with brighteners, whiteners or stiffeners that have natural additives such as hydrogen peroxide, phosphate-free soaps and vegetable starch.

Maintenance of Clothes

Dry cleaners are also turning green. In a move to cut back on the environmental impact of dry cleaning methods, government and environmental and cleaning groups are working to reduce the chemicals used. The main chemical used in dry cleaning is the water-based perchloroethylene, but it is on a list of priority chemicals to be reduced or eliminated.

While the green movement in the clothing industry has focused on fibers and materials, the impact of the care of clothes is being observed: dry cleaning, energy for washing, drying and ironing, water use and the disposal of clothes when we are finished with them.

As reported in the Windsor Star back in 1994, in order to add life to clothes and keep up with an eco-conscious life style, Esprit offered tips still relevant today:

  • wash clothes only as needed since excessive washing shortens the life of clothes
  • machine wash in cold water rather than hot to save energy
  • invest in energy and water efficient appliances
  • clean the lint screen after each use to increase the dryer’s efficiency, or line dry clothes in the sun
  • use only the amount of detergent required, not what’s stated on instructions
  • search for natural substitutes for softeners and stain removers
  • dry clean only when necessary
  • avoid products in aerosol spray cans
  • use cedar oil and wood products as a natural substitute to chemical mothballs

Friends and Foes

The fashion environmental aspects, some outlined by Green Choices, include twelve areas of concern with both friendly and unfriendly aspects (see image below):

  • Fibers- the issues of pesticides, relocation of indigenous people since best land used for export crops, and the irresponsible grazing of sheep resulting in deforestation and destruction of habitat for native species
  • Materials- the issue of plastics
  • Cleaning- issue of energy use and toxics
  • Stiffening- the issue of aerosol
  • Brightening- issue of toxics
  • Coloring- issue of chemical dyes
  • Shrink Proofing- issue of toxics
  • Softening- health issues
  • Stain Removal- health issues
  • Moth Protection- health issues
  • Style- issue of energy use
  • Disposal- issue of waste of resources


On the day before Earth Day, 2011, Virtuarte, reported on Patricia Amsellem’s environmentally responsible fashion label, Patams in Brazil that creates “eco-friendly, fashion forward products”. Natural leaves of the Cerrado region are gathered, but with a “caring and enduring concern for conservation of the environment they live in. Nothing is wasted, and damaged leaves or branches are used for special purposes.” She also uses Minimum Density Fiber (MDF) or Madeiro Do Futuro, a composite product composed of eucalyptus and pine wood residues.


  • Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson. Sign Wars: the Cluttered landscape of Advertising. Guilford, New York. 1996
  • Paul Davidson. Getting Gold out of GreenUSA Today. April 18, 2007.
  • Maura Judkis. How 5 of Your Favorite Clothing Stores are Going GreenUS News. March 12, 2009.
  • Fashion and the Environment. Windsor Star, Tues. Jan. 4, 1994.
  • Clothes: Environmental ImpactsGreen Choices.
  • Leaves Made Into Chic, Eco-Friendly Fashion AccessoriesVirtuarte. Apr. 21, 2011.

Source / Fuente:

Author / Autor: James Gibson 

Date / Fecha: 29/06/11

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