How Destructive Are We? The Fashion Industry’s Shocking Truth

If the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months it could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30%.

–Leigh Mapledoram , Program Area Manager, Wrap UK

Fashion Industry General Statistics
  • The global textile and garment industry is valued at 3 trillion dollars, and accounts for 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).1
  • The global retail apparel and footwear market-value forecast: 2022 at 1.7 trillion dollars; 2023 at 2.0 trillion, with United States, China, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan accounting for more than half of the 2021 global demand.1
2018 Source: FashionUnited.com¹
Retail value of luxury goods market: 339.4 billion dollars
Value of the menswear industry: 402 billion dollars
Value of the womenswear industry: 621 billion dollars
Bridal Wear market: 57 billion dollars
Childrenswear market: 186 billion dollars
Sports footwear market: 90.4 billion dollars
  • 2020, China is the largest exporter of textiles and clothing worldwide and the European Union is the largest importer of these goods.¹
  • United Nations Alliance on Sustainable Fashion reports the fashion industry employs over 75 million people worldwide.
  • According to Statista, in September 2022, LVMH was by far the clothing company with the highest market capitalization, at approximately 317 billion U.S. dollars. This was over 150 billion dollars more than Nike, the company in second place.Statistic: Leading clothing companies worldwide as of September 2022, by market capitalization (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista
    Find more statistics at Statista
Emissions/Air Pollution
  • 208M lbs. of waste were generated by single-use outfits in 2019.11
  • 1 in 2 people are throwing their unwanted clothes straight in the trash. The result?  64% of the 32B garments produced each year end up in landfill.11
  • The Environmental Protection Agency reports that Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste a year, equaling just over six percent of total municipal waste (for context, plastics make up 13 percent of America’s waste stream).
  • Environmental Protection Agency Clothing and Footwear Waste Management 2018 report: Landfilled: 9,070,000 US tons; Recycled: 1,690,000 US tons; Combustion with Energy Recovery: 2,210,000 US tons.  From 1960 – 2018 all data higher than previous years.
    1960-2018 Data on Clothing and Footwear in MSW by Weight (in thousands of U.S. tons)
    Management Pathway 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005 2010 2015 2017 2018
    Generation 1,360 1,620 2,170 4,010 6,470 7,890 9,100 11,940 12,800 12,970
    Recycled 50 60 150 520 900 1,250 1,250 1,690 1,740 1,690
    Combustion with Energy Recovery 10 50 590 1,080 1,210 1,390 2,010 2,160 2,210
    Landfilled 1,310 1,550 1,970 2,900 4,490 5,430 6,460 8,240 8,900 9,070

    Sources: American Apparel & Footwear Association, Council for Textile Recycling, and International Trade Commission. A dash in the table means that data is not available.

  • Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled with the average consumer buying 60 percent more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long. 9
  • Nearly 20% of global wastewater is produced by the fashion industry.9
  • According to Green America, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally.
  • 20,000 liters is the amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans.10
  • It takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. 3
  • Textile industry is one of the top 3 water wasting industry in China, discharging over 2.5 billion tons of wastewater every year.2
  • About 15% of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor. This waste rate has been tolerated industry-wide for decades.4
  • According to Christina Dean, Redress, waste generated in China is not known, with estimates that China will soon make 50% of the world’s clothing – the indications for textile waste there are mind-blowing.  Daily in Hong Kong, there are 253 tons of textiles sent to landfill.
Toxic Chemical Stats and Brand Scorecard
  • 43 million tons of chemicals are used to dye and treat our clothes every year AND there are 8,000 different chemicals used to manufacture clothing.
  • According to Green America, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally.
  • Cotton farming is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides, despite using only 3% of the world’s arable land.9

Source: Green America Toxic Textiles Scorecard; Green America Toxic Textile Report

  • More than USD 500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling.
  • Consumers throw away shoes and clothing [versus recycle], an average of 70 pounds per person, annually. 5
  • A few communities have textile recycling programs, about 85% of this waste goes to landfills where it occupies about 5% of landfill space and the amount is growing. 5
  • Up to 95% of the textiles that are land filled each year could be recycled. 7
  • Landfill space is expensive and hard to find. 5
  • Using recycled cotton saves 20,000 liters of water per kilogram of cotton, a water-intensive crop.8
Used Clothing – the second-hand market
  • According to Statista, the market for secondhand apparel is estimated to go from a value of 96 billion in 2021 to 218 billion U.S. dollars by 2026.
  • The secondhand market projected to nearly double the size of fast fashion by 2029.11
  • 208M lbs. of waste were generated by single-use outfits in 2019.11
  • 1 in 2 people are throwing their unwanted clothes straight in the trash. The result?  64% of the 32B garments produced each year end up in landfill.11
  • The United States is the largest exporter of second hand clothing. It exports over a billion pounds of used clothing every year.6
  • Over 70% of the world’s population use second hand clothes.7
  • Consumers in the United Kingdom have an estimated $46.7 billion worth of unworn clothes in their closets. 2
More on Sustainable Fashion:

Take a look at the category Sustainable EDGE and be informed on designers, brands, and global initiatives that are making the case for a circular fashion economy.  Sustainable fashion is a big topic and as you tour the website, you’ll find vetted resources, reports, and links documenting this massive topic.  In the right column you will find over 35 links in the section: Sustainable Fashion: Be Informed | EDGE Suggested Resources.  With periodic updates to this page and throughout the website, we’ve done the homework for you.

What is Circular Fashion?

Apparel, footwear, accessories that are made to be made again, are made from safe and recycled or renewable inputs, are used and cared for more, and after use re-enters the economy, never ending up as waste.

Related: Rescued Rubbish is ReIMAGINED, and it’s not just clothes | EDGE Talks to Sayoko Kojima

Published: 20 July 2016; periodically updated

Updated: 26 October 2022

Reference Notes:

  3. Forbes – Making Climate Change Fashionable – The Garment Industry Takes on Global Warming
  4. Timo Rissanen, “From 15% to 0: Investigating the creation of fashion without the creation of fabric waste,” Presenter, Kreativ Institut for Design og Teknologi, September 2005.
  7. | Secondary Materials and Recycling Textiles [SMART]
  9. United Nations Partnership on Sustainable Fashion and the SDG’s
  11., online resale –

Other References:

Photo credit: Sayoko Kojima, designer | Photographer @manonceartist

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Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor

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