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The Problem With Waste in the Fashion World

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

By: Lauren Desloge

The fashion industry is the second-most polluting manufacturing sector in the world.

With the emergence of fast fashion and the high demand for clothes, there has been a push to manufacture clothes faster, cheaper and more efficiently.

Clothing manufacturing is complicated and expensive. The process of selecting patterns and textiles, cutting, and sewing can be tedious — one minor mistake along the way can kill an entire line.

“There is an overabundance of clothing going in the landfills and that is getting incinerated because they’ve made too much of it,” Angela Johnson, co-founder of Tempe-based F.A.B.R.I.C and owner of LabelHorde, said.

Some manufacturers are mass-producing clothing seen online and in department stores and boutiques.

“We want the beauty and art of fashion to be able to survive and be beneficial to our planet and not hurt it and be costly, and it can be done we have to change the way we manufacture and shop,” Sherri Barry, co-founder of F.A.B.R.I.C and owner of AZ Fashion Source, said.

When these designs are manufactured incorrectly, they are forced to be thrown away into landfills Johnson said. After the cutting process, about 15% of fabric ends up on the floor and is thrown away because it can’t be recycled.

“The fibers, a lot of them, are not recyclable and there’s not a lot of technology in how you separate out all of those fibers,” she said.

Not only is this waste increasing in landfills, but it also is responsible for about 20% of global wastewater and emits about 10% of global carbon emissions. The use of dyes in textiles is a big contributor to this and to air pollution as well.

This issue was brought to the attention of the United Nations and has been discussed during many panels.

The way clothes are made has not evolved much since the start of fashion design.

According to Laura Tanzer, a sustainable fashion designer based in Tucson, the technology used and the way people are taught to make clothes has not changed to be beneficial for the planet.

“The industry itself is mired in old traditions that are not sustainable in today’s world,” said Tanzer, who also taught courses in sustainable business practices at the University of Arizona. She knew she had to apply what she taught to her own designs to try and help the industry evolve.

Designers and manufacturers globally need to be aware of this problem so it can be stopped.

“We live on a finite planet with finite resources,” said Tanzer.


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