Cotton is the single most highly used fibre in the garment industry (Approximately 20 million tons of cotton are produced yearly). This cash crop not only requires a high volume of water, but is also highly dependent on pesticides and fertilisers to increase its harvest. Despite cotton crops covering less than 3% of the world’s cropland, they use about 10% of the agricultural chemicals and 25% of the insecticides used for farming in the world.These chemicals lead to the pollution of groundwater and air, and the reduction of soil fertility. It also accounts for 2.6-6% of global water use where 73% of the world’s cotton harvest grows on irrigated land. On average, it takes around 10,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of cotton, however, in some regions, the inefficient water use and high prevalence of water pollution can expedite this use to 20,500 litres per kilogram of cotton. Furthermore, it is not just the production of raw material that is water-intensive but also the wet processing of the material (see: Production). With the upscale consumption of water and use of pesticides and other chemicals, damage to the environment is bound to follow. I explain in more detail under pollution.
There are also other materials used that may harm the environment. Polyester and nylon are also highly used fabrics in the garment industry. Unlike cotton, they are man-made from petrochemicals. Along with the growth of the fashion industry, the demand for man-made fibres has doubled (in the last 15 years). The production of synthetic materials requires large amounts of energy and lead to the emission of pollutive particles, volatile organic compounds and acid gasses in the process. Nylon also emits nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) while polyester production emits microplastics and by-products that pollute the water. Furthermore, these materials are non-biodegradable, causing build up in landfills.
Animals are also used for a variety of products in the fashion industry from fur and leather to wool, cashmere, angora, silk, to down and feathers