The Naked Truth: Shopping for the Dirt on Fashion

You are polluting just by getting dressed and you can’t go naked. Look at your clothes. You are most wearing some combination of natural and synthetic fibers. For the synthetic fibers, with every washing, those polyester, plastic like fibers break down go into waste water that makes it way to the ocean and ends up in the food you eat and water you drink. Your clothes are polluting with every wash. Growing cotton takes a lot of pesticides and that runoff ends up in waste water, that makes its way to the ocean and ends up in the food you eat and the water you drink. It takes more water to make a cotton t shirt then you will drink in three years. It takes 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric. That toxic runoff from the dye goes into our water. There is more, you get the point. But, why is this such an issue now?

Well, to point a fashionably gloved finger, fast fashion. The industry shift to cheap clothes intended for one season wear with retailers such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara exacerbated this problem in the last decade. Toss clothes out after a season of wear. With only 15% of used clothing being donated or recycled; that leaves a whopping 85% in landfills. Consider 60% of clothing has synthetic fibers, so that is going to sit in the landfills for hundreds of years. The US alone sends 21 billion pounds of clothes to landfill annually. One headline,“Throw away garments contribute more to climate change than air and sea travel.” The good news for the environment is, the trends toward fast fashion are showing slowed sales.

There is more. Fashion retailers routinely incinerate unsold stock. Burberry burns stock to maintain exclusivity and scarcity. Others burn for a tax credit, H&M allegedly burns 13 tons annually. Nike defaces excess stock so the shoes cannot be worn or resold. More for landfill. Fashion generates more waste than e waste. Overall, it’s a balance.  We’re not going to go naked, so it’s finding a balance of environmental awareness and smarter choices. Maybe eschewing quality for quality in clothing. Becoming a supplier or buyer for businesses such as Thred Up. This week, consider your fashion footprint.How old are he clothes you are wearing, how do you dispose of old clothes and how to you acquired new ones. 




  1. There has been debate on fashion being the second largest polluter. Several sources have run numbers and int he list of top polluters, fashion is closer to number 5 or 6.



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