Sustainable Fashion: Problems and Solutions

Fashion is an important part of our lives. While people in the past dressed to show which class they belonged to, people today dress to impress. Every fashion item is available at a price, and some companies do their best to copy famous designers. Influencers are continually looking for new brands to promote, and the masses follow.

However, it’s the masses that caused the birth of fast fashion. Businesses have decided to follow the runway trends, turning to mass production at a low cost. Unfortunately, this caused another problem for the environment. Today, humanity faces textile waste, water pollution, and exploitation of workers, all in the name of fashion. That’s why this industry needs to change.

Clothes Are Hard to Recycle

Over 10 million tonnes of clothing waste gets thrown away each year. The average American throws away around 81 pounds of clothes per year. Clothes seem to be hard to recycle since the fast fashion industry uses non-renewable resources, and people seem to be oblivious to the amount of clothing they throw away.

On a global scale, only 12% of materials used for making clothes get recycled, which is significantly less than paper, glass, or PET bottles. Clothes are made of a mix of fibers, making them hard to separate for recycling. Dyes should also be removed from materials, which is a tedious process.

The Solution

The solution could come from both manufacturers and consumers. Raising awareness about how much clothing people need versus how much they buy can make a change. Consumers could spend some time looking for ways to donate clothes instead of throwing them away.

The manufacturers could research and develop methods to minimize the harmful effects of certain materials and dyes. Fiber recycling exists, but it hasn’t reached its full potential. Companies could cooperate with other branches and work on downcycling.

Forced Labor Is Common

Fast fashion businesses know that the local production of clothes is more expensive. That’s why the companies decide to move the production abroad, most commonly to developing countries. Unfortunately, those countries rarely have adequate labor laws, and workers end up being exploited. Many workers are underaged, which raises an even bigger ethical concern.

With the lack of proper laws comes the lack of worker protection. In May 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing over 1,100 and injuring at least 2,000 workers. This catastrophic event stirred up the public and forced companies to focus on improving the working conditions.

The Solution

Consumers can google brands that care about the environment and ethical manufacturing. Still, the chances are that such brands are more expensive for consumers. Nonetheless, supporting brands that focus on ethical manufacturing is a good way to show that people stand with endangered workers worldwide.

Companies should do their best to move the production to a country that has good labor laws. They can also make sure that safety measures are implemented before the production starts. Just a small increase in the prices of clothing would result in living wages for textile workers.

Washing Clothes Releases Harmful Microfibers Into the Water

Many modern washing machines don’t have a lint trap to prevent lint from ending up in the water from the washing machine. That only means that all the lint ends up in oceans, contributing greatly to ocean plastic pollution. Unfortunately, the microfibers contain polyester and other synthetic fabrics that take a lot of time to disintegrate.

As the fibers break down, they become smaller, ending up in the bellies of fish, crabs, and other sea creatures. That is a health risk for all species in the food chain, including people.

The Solution

More research is necessary to understand the microfibers’ route. If people can’t remove polyester and other harmful materials during production, they can focus on creating materials that shed less.

Companies should make informed decisions starting from textile manufacturers to the retail sector, especially because completely natural materials are hard to incorporate in every clothing item. Consumers can also focus on buying materials that shed less or finding a washing machine that collects lint.

Fast Fashion and Carbon Emissions

The fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions. To put things into perspective, that’s more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Synthetic fibers made from fossil fuels are some of the most toxic fibers that continue to pollute planet Earth.

Most of the clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, and India that use coal the most. Unfortunately, coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and is largely contributing to the increase in global average temperatures. This only adds to the total percentage of greenhouse gas emissions and turns the fashion industry into a health hazard.

The Solution

Raising awareness among consumers can be the right way to solve this problem. Just like with other fast fashion problems, consumers can do their best to shop less, choose natural materials, and buy clothes manufactured in countries that use renewable energy sources.

Besides consumers, companies can also contribute by researching which countries use renewable energy sources during production and decide to move the production there. Deciding on more natural materials is also a good approach.

Cotton and Water Consumption

To produce cotton fabrics, companies need to grow cotton in the fields. However, cotton farming demands a lot of water. Cotton cultivation degrades soil, which leads to increased use of chemicals to make the plants thrive. These chemicals end up in fields and lakes, contaminating the environment.

But that’s not all. Once the cotton farming is finished, the cotton processing keeps on wasting water. It takes around 700 gallons of water to make one t-shirt. If other chemicals, such as dye, enter the equation, fast fashion becomes responsible for 20% of global water pollution.

The Solution

Some brands are focusing on growing cotton in a more sustainable way. Many organizations help farmers develop good practices to use water efficiently and conserve nature while still growing high-quality cotton.

Consumers can work on understanding how much water they consume while washing cotton clothes. If many decide to be conscious consumers, their small actions can make a big difference.


While fashion brands keep on launching seasonal clothing lines, it seems that raising awareness is the key to solving fast fashion problems. It’s more than obvious that increased consumption of clothes leads to environmental issues. The fashion industry is using up precious materials to make clothes that pollute soil and oceans.

The harmful effects of fast fashion are also affecting people. Many workers in the manufacturing process are underage, underpaid, or lack work protection. Consumers can donate to organizations dealing with this problem, but companies should bear the responsibility and help employees be secure and paid better.

Fashion is a huge part of people’s lives and won’t go away. Still, changes don’t happen overnight. Many companies still lack proper research and development teams to implement better practices. Eventually, everyone will have to work together to make fashion sustainable for the future.

About the author


Kim Lee lives in Tampa, Florida and focuses on living an intentionally happy life, helping others live better, and having a whole lot of fun. She loves to write, read, enjoy the outdoors, and play with dogs.

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