It seems that the more we discover about the various issues within the fashion industry, the more there is to learn.
While we take deep dives into particular topics like fair trade and clothing overproduction and we unearth a lot of sustainable fashion facts along the way.
Sustainable and ethical fashion is a vast subject and incorporates everything from workers’ rights to carbon emissions, vegan fashion, sustainable fabrics and fashion waste, to name just a few.
Here we’ve gathered all of the latest facts and stats together and bring you 101 ethical fashion statistics covering a whole range of issues across the fashion industry.
We look at statistics concerning the impact of the industry on the environment, people and animals.
We also take a look at the numbers behind recent sustainable fashion trends, find out what conscious consumers are searching for and what steps brands are taking to move the industry into a more sustainable future.
Table of Contents
Ethical Fashion Statistics About The Environment
Understanding the impact that the fashion industry has on the environment is critical in order to find solutions to this massive issue.
Our collection of fashion sustainability statistics paints a pretty clear picture that more and better action is needed in order to deal with carbon emissions, water pollution, microfibre pollution and textile waste.
1. Carbon emissions from fashion: 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry. That’s more than all international flights and shipping combined.
2. Projection for 2030: If the fashion industry continues with only the current decarbonisation measures in place, its carbon emissions in 2030 will be 2.1 billion tonnes. This is nearly double the maximum level required to stay on the 1.5-degree pathway set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
3. Jeans lifecycle assessment: A pair of jeans emits 32.5kg of CO2 emissions over its whole lifecycle. This includes the emissions from cultivating the cotton, processing, dyeing, finishing, shipping and then washing by the consumer. For the full low-down on the environmental impact of denim, have a look at our article Is denim sustainable: A look into the environmental impact of denim.
4. Source of emissions: Supply chain operations, including manufacturing and raw material production, account for over 70% of the fashion industry’s emissions. The remaining 30% stems from the retail, consumer use, and end-of-life phases.
5. Brands publishing emissions details: While 62% of major brands publish carbon emissions from their own operations, only 26% do so for processing and manufacturing, and only 17% for raw materials.
6. Brands publishing emissions targets: The Ethical Fashion Report 2021 found that only 29% of companies have targets and decarbonisation plans in place across their whole supply chain. Moreover, 38% of companies have no publicly published emissions targets or plans at all.
Water Consumption and Water Pollution
7. Water used to make clothes: It takes roughly 5,000 gallons (22,730 litres) of water to make just one t-shirt and pair of jeans.
8. 10,850l water used in lifecycle of jeans: A pair of jeans uses about 10,850 litres of water throughout its lifecycle.
9. Second largest polluter: The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter of water, accounting for 20% of all industrial water pollution.
10. Only 23% of brands setting targets: According to a survey conducted by the charity CDP, just under a quarter (23%) of the fashion companies surveyed set targets to minimise water pollution, and only 6% monitor and report on progress.
For an in-depth look into water pollution in the fashion industry and what we can do about it, take a look at our article Water pollution in the fashion industry: the shocking truth and what you can do.
Clothing and textile waste is another major issue. Overproduction of clothing by fashion brands is just one cause, the production of cheap clothing and social media’s influence encourage overconsumption.
Among the ethical fashion statistics available, there is plenty of data concerning the amount of clothing and textile waste being produced. And the stats are pretty shocking.
11. 20% of worldwide waste: The textile and garment industries account for 20% of worldwide production waste.
12. 40m tonnes of textile waste: The fashion industry generates over 40 million tonnes of textile waste each year, the majority of which is either sent to landfill or incinerated. And from 2015 to 2030, textile waste was anticipated to increase by 60%.
13. 350,000 tonnes of clothes to landfill: Every year in the UK, 350,000 tonnes of worn but still useable clothing (worth roughly £140 million), goes to landfill.
15. Separate textile waste collection required in EU by ’25: The European Union’s Waste Framework Directive (WFD) requires all member countries to put in place separate textile waste collection facilities by 2025.
When it comes to sustainability, the more waste we can keep out of landfills, the better. To learn more about the issues and what you can do to help, have a read of our article on the clothing waste crisis.
We also have an article taking an in depth look into why fashion brands overproduce and what can be done to fix it.
Microplastic pollution is another important topic to dive into when collecting sustainable fashion facts.
17. Half a million tonnes a year: Every year, half a million tonnes of plastic microfibers, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles, end up in the ocean.
18. Arctic pollution: Synthetic fibres are responsible for 92 per cent of microplastic pollution in the Arctic. The majority (73%) of these are polyester.
19. Washing synthetic clothes causes a third of pollution: According to one International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, washing synthetic garments is responsible for 35% of microplastic pollution.
Our love of synthetics is taking a steep toll on the environment. To find out what you can do to help, have a read of our article How To Avoid Microplastics In Clothing.
Sustainable Fabric Trends
One way we can address the colossal impact that the fashion industry has on the environment is to shift towards the use of more sustainable fabrics.
Understanding the impact that different fabrics have is vital for building a conscious future for fashion.
We dived into the world of sustainable fabrics in our article What is the most sustainable fabric: Your ultimate guide and uncovered lots of ethical fashion statistics along the way.
Natural fibres and fabrics
20. 25.9m tonnes a year: As of 2020, 25.9 million tonnes of cotton were produced globally every year.
21. Uses more pesticides than any other major crop: Cotton covers only 2.4% of the world’s agricultural land but uses more pesticides (and insecticides) than any other major crop.
22. Huge water use: Cotton is an extremely thirsty crop, making up 69% of textile production’s water footprint.
23. Genetically modified cotton: In 2019, genetically modified cotton accounted for 79% of the total amount of agricultural land planted to cotton.
24. 100m rural households rely on cotton: Around the world, up to 100 million rural households rely on the cotton industry, the vast majority of which (90%) are in low-income countries.
To understand more about who grows the cotton for our clothes and why this is important have a read of our article: Understanding Who Grows Cotton For Our Clothes And Why That Matters
Given the high cost of conventionally-grown cotton, the move towards organic cotton is essential to secure a more sustainable fashion industry.
Here are the sustainable fashion facts for this eco-friendly fabric.
25. 80% of land rainfed: The Textile Exchange has reported that 80% of land used for organic cotton is rainfed, a huge advantage of organic.
26. Half the impact of normal cotton: Conventionally farmed cotton has roughly double the environmental impact of organic cotton, according to the Higgs Materials Sustainability Index.
27. Production has over doubled within 10 years: Organic cotton production has steadily increased over the last decade, rising from 107,000 tonnes in 2012-2013 to 181,000 tonnes in 2017-2018 and nearly 240,000 tonnes in 2018-2019.
28. 34% increase in GOTS factories in one year: There’s also been a big jump in the number of Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified manufacturers. In 2020 there were 10,388 factories, an increase of 34% since just 2019.
29. Still only 1% of worldwide cotton: However, despite the fact that the amount of organic cotton is increasing, as of 2021 it still accounted for only around 1% of all the cotton grown worldwide.
What about recycled cotton?
Potentially one of the most sustainable fabrics out there, recycled cotton is awarded a Class A rating by the Made-by Environmental Benchmark for Fibres.
It’s good news for the planet.
30. Saved water, emissions and land: According to material science company Recover, 1 kg of Recover™ recycled cotton saves 4,740 litres of water, 23kg of CO2 emissions and 10.5 m2 of land use.
31. 2,700l water saved per t shirt: Recover yarns™, which include 52 per cent recycled cotton, can save up to 2,700 litres of water per t-shirt.
32. Goals for growth in recycled cotton: Recover aims to scale recycled cotton production to an impressive 20,000 metric tonnes per year by 2025.
Linen is one of the best sustainable fibres out there and is being adopted by more and more sustainable brands. It’s one of the world’s oldest fibres and requires much less water and chemical inputs compared to cotton.
Here are some sustainable fashion facts about this wonder fabric.
33. Captures 250k tonnes of carbon annually: The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp (CELC) estimates that European flax cultivation captures 250,000 tonnes of carbon each year.
34. Low water & energy use for growing and weaving: Linen can be grown very sustainably. In fact, the least water and energy-intensive part of linen clothing’s life cycle is growing the flax and weaving it into linen. It’s the washing and ironing during the consumer stage that causes the biggest impact, consuming over 80% of the energy and water used by the fabric.
35. Great at moisture wicking: Flax fibres can absorb up to 20% of their weight without feeling damp to the touch. This means it’s a great fabric for wicking moisture away from your body and keeping you sweat-free.
For a detailed review of whether linen is more eco-friendly than cotton, have a look at our article here.
And if you’d like to add some sustainable linen to your ethical clothing collection, check out our round-up of the 15 best linen clothing brands for the UK.
36. 20-33x less water use than cotton: According to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute, 1kg of hemp needs between 300 and 500 litres of water to grow. 1kg of cotton on the other hand needs about 9,758 litres!
37. Third of the land requirement: On a yearly basis, one acre of hemp produces the same amount of fibre as two to three acres of cotton.
38. 120 days to harvest: Hemp grows quickly and is ready for harvesting just 120 days after it’s planted.
For our full review of the beneftis of hemp see 22 ways hemp clothing benefits you and the earth. And for a round up of the best sustainable fashion brands using hemp see Cool & sustainable hemp clothing brands.
39. 62% of clothing is synthetic: As of 2020, synthetic fabrics (mainly polyester) made up 62% of clothing. Cotton made up 24% and cellulosic fibres such as viscose, 6%.
40. Nylon production releases toxic gas: Nylon production releases nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. This greenhouse gas is 310 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Polyester and Recycled Polyester
41. PET accounts for half of all fibres: As of 2021, PET (polyethylene terephthalate), is the most commonly used fibre in the clothing industry, accounting for about half (52%) of all fibres produced.
42. 2-3x CO2 as cotton: Polyester production emits two to three times as much carbon dioxide as cotton.
43. 6x more microplastics than nylon: Polyester sheds around six times more microplastic fibres than nylon.
45. 9 bottles for one t shirt: Recycled polyester (rPET) is mostly made from the PET found in plastic drinks bottles. About 9 drinks bottles are needed to make one T-shirt.
46. Recycled polyester is going up: The good news is that the amount of recycled polyester is increasing. 14% of the polyester produced is already recycled and the 2025 Recycled Polyester Challenge is challenging the apparel industry to increase this to 45% by 2025. Many big brands have signed up including Inditex, H&M, Boss, Marks & Spencers, Tesco and Gap.
47. Reduces emissions by over 70%: In comparison to virgin polyester, each kg of mechanically recycled polyester reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 70%.
Have a look at our recycled polyester article to learn more about the pros and cons of this recycled fabric and find out about 10 great ethical brands using recycled PET.
48. 200m trees felled annually for cellulosics: Every year, more than 200 million trees are felled and processed into cellulosic fabrics like viscose.
49. Huge peatland loss in Borneo: In 2020, in Borneo, an area of deforested peatland the size of 10,000 football pitches was linked to viscose fabric suppliers.
For a full discussion of viscose fabric, have a look at our article: Is Viscose Environmentally Friendly? Your Complete Guide
(See also statistics under the “recycled cotton” and “recycled polyester” headings above).
51. Less than 10% of market: In 2020, recycled materials made up less than 10% of the worldwide textile market.
52. Consumer demand increasing: However, with a growing awareness of the issues, consumer demand for recycled materials is increasing. For example, in 2021 there was a 55% year-on-year increase in searches for ‘recycled sneakers’ on Lyst.
Slow Fashion Facts
The shift towards more sustainable fabrics is just one way to address the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry.
We also need to dramatically reduce our clothing consumption and simply buy less new clothes.
Buying pre-loved clothing, upcycled and reworked fashion is a great step toward creating a more circular fashion economy.
Pre-loved Clothing: The Shift Towards Thrift
53. Pre-loved fashion massive on eBay: Data from eBay UK revealed that between January and September 2021, over 87 million pre-loved items were purchased. Almost a quarter of these were pre-loved fashion items.
54. 17,771 tonnes saved from landfill: Thanks to secondhand sales on eBay UK, 17,771 tonnes of fashion items – the equivalent weight of 1,404 double-decker buses – was saved from landfill in 2021.
55. Secondhand market growing apace: Based on data from Vestiaire Collective, a 2020 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey suggests that the global secondhand market is likely to grow from 15% to 20% in the next five years.
For more information about where to source the best pre-loved clothes online, have a look at our article: Secondhand Treasures.
Upcycled and Reworked Fashion
56. Exponential demand increase: A 117% year-on-year increase in demand for upcycled, recycled, repurposed and reworked items.
57. Upcycled jeans: A 321% year-on-year jump in searches for ‘upcycled jeans’.
58. 10% a year growth: As of 2021, the online fashion rental market is predicted to increase at a rate of more than 10% each year over the next five years.
Our article on clothing subscription services has ideas about where to source the best rented clothes.
Pre-order Clothing Collections
59. Pre-order demand up: Lyst data from The 2021 Conscious Fashion Report showed that there was a 64% increase in demand for pre-order items over the previous 12 months.
We write more about the merits of on demand clothing in our article Is on-demand clothing manufacturing the future of fashion?
Ethical Fashion Statistics About People
Up until now, the ethical fashion statistics compiled here have mainly been concerned with the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
But what about the impact that the industry has on the millions of people around the world who are employed in textile and garment production?
We’ve gathered some statistics about the social impact of fashion.
60. 160 million children involved in child labour: According to the latest International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates, 160 million children were involved in child labour at the beginning of 2020, an increase of 8.4 million children since 2016. This represents nearly 1 in 10 children worldwide.
61. 1 in 5 children in poorer countries: It’s most prevalent in the world’s poorest countries, where just over 1 in 5 children are involved in child labour.
The ILO defines child labour as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”.
It’s most likely to happen in the lower tiers of supply chains, in activities like agriculture. This is what makes traceability so challenging.
For a detailed discussion of the issues and information about how you can help, take a look at our article: Help End Child Labour: 22 Brands Committed To Child Labour Free Clothing.
Modern slavery is one of the ethical issues we cover in our article Why Is Sustainable And Ethical Fashion Important? It continues to be a huge global problem.
62. 46m people in modern slavery: World Population Review estimates that there are 46 million people in modern slavery as of 2022. This includes 24.9 million people working in forced labour, estimated by the ILO in 2017.
63. Clothing high risk for slavery: The Global Slavery Index 2018, identified clothing as one of the top 5 products at risk of modern slavery.
64. Tiny fraction pay living wage: According to the 2021 Ethical Fashion Report, only 15% of companies can prove that they pay a living wage in any of their final stage operations and only 4% can demonstrate that they pay it in all of their final stage operations.
65. 99% of leading brands not transparent: The Fashion Transparency Index 2021 found that 99% of leading fashion brands don’t reveal how many of the workers in their supply chains are being paid a living wage.
Finding fashion brands that pay a fair wage can be difficult.
For more information about living wages and a list of ethical brands that pay fair, have a read of our article: Making Fashion Fair: 21 Fashion Brands That Pay A Living Wage.
Supply Chains And Traceability
A major issue for the fashion industry to address is the traceability of supply chains.
Without implementing full traceability, it will be very difficult to stamp out harmful practices such as child labour and modern slavery.
Here we look at a few of the ethical fashion statistics in this area.
66. Raw material supplier tracing up: According to the Ethical Fashion Report 2021, the percentage of companies actively working to trace their raw material suppliers increased from 48% in 2019 to 69% in 2021.
67. A quarter can disclose some processing facilities: Likewise, the Fashion Transparency Index 2021 found an improvement with just over a quarter of big brands (27%) now able to disclose some of their processing facilities. This is up from 24% in 2020.
68. Only 51% carrying out audits at raw material stage: Audits are still the most common method used to monitor each stage of the supply chain. However, although 95% of the companies surveyed in the Ethical Fashion Report 2021 used audits to monitor their final supply chain, only 51% carried out audits at the raw material level.
Right to Collective Bargaining
In addition to paying living wages, ensuring that workers are empowered through being able to collectively bargain for their rights, or join a union, is an important way to reduce the risk of modern slavery.
69. Workers’ unions low overall: The Ethical Fashion Report 2021 found that 54% of companies had evidence of active workers’ unions or worker representative groups at one or more of their final stage operations. However, only 7% could demonstrate this at more than 75% of their operations.
70. Less evidence at raw material level: The report also found that only 41% of companies could show worker representative groups at one or more of their raw materials operations.
It’s clear that there’s a lot more work to be done in this area to ensure that workers can stand up for their rights, especially at the lower-tier level of supply chains.
Gender Inequality In The Fashion Industry
71. Women make up 80% of workforce: As of 2018, women made up nearly 80% of the workforce throughout the fashion industry’s supply chains. Therefore they are disproportionately affected by the issues outlined above.
On the flip side, it means that any positive changes we can make will help empower female workers in the fashion industry.
Ethical Fashion Statistics About Animals
Animal welfare within the fashion industry is another major concern and despite ongoing campaigns, issues remain.
To read more about whether leather truly is a by-product of the meat industry (in many cases it isn’t, you can read Is leather bad for the environment: The unsustainable truth.
73. Silkworms most killed animal: Conventional silk production involves killing large numbers of silkworms and silk moths, often by boiling them alive. Between 3,000 and 15,000 silkworms are killed in the production of just one metre of silk.
For more information on the ethics of silk see Is mulberry silk ethical and are there kinder alternatives?
There has been some progress regarding fur farming:
74. Fur farming ban extending across Europe: As of 2022, 20 European countries have banned fur farming. Ireland banned fur farming as recently as March 2022, Italy as of 2022 and France and Estonia banned fur farming in 2021. The Estonia ban will come into force in 2026.
75. Searches for real fur slowed: The Lyst Insights 2020 Conscious Fashion Report showed that searches for real fur have slowed right down, decreasing 8% year on year.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence. In 2021, they partnered with Good On You to rate 111 international brands on their progress in animal welfare.
The report titled ‘Animal Welfare In Fashion: Towards a truly ethical and transparent fashion industry’ found that:
76. 14% of brands have improved animal welfare: Since 2019, 14 per cent of the brands surveyed have improved their animal welfare ranking significantly.
77. Formal animal welfare policy: And 57% of brands now have a formal animal welfare policy.
78. Only a third using ethical certifications: Despite wool and (to a lesser extent) down being used by many of the brands in the survey, only 32% were using wool and down with ethical certifications.
79. Only a fifth check products for animal welfare: Only 21% of brands trace their animal-derived materials to check for animal welfare.
80. Luxury brands behind: Luxury brands are notably behind the curve scoring only 23% on average for animal welfare.
The main conclusion drawn from this report is that while more brands are starting to prioritise animal welfare, there is still a lot of work to be done.
To find out how you can help stop animal cruelty in the clothing industry have a look at our article How to stop animal cruelty in the fashion industry: 10 things you can do starting now.
The latest ethical fashion statistics show that the demand for vegan fabrics, clothing and footwear is on the rise.
81. Searches for vegan leather up 69% a year: According to Lyst data in 2020, searches for “vegan leather” had climbed by 69 per cent year on year, averaging 33,100 monthly searches. Searches for leather, on the other hand, had decreased by 3.5% year on year.
82. 258% surge in vegan fashion stock: In 2019, Vogue reported that the stock of vegan fashion products surged by 258% in the UK and US.
83. Value of market to triple: The global vegan women’s fashion market was valued at $396.9 billion in 2019, according to a report by Grand View Research. (Vegan footwear made up 41.3 per cent of the total). In 2027, it is expected to reach $1,095.6 billion.
84. Leather and fur considered cruel: In The Rise Of Vegan Fashion 2021 report, 61.4% of people surveyed thought that fur was cruel and 37.1% said they thought leather from cows was cruel.
For a round up of where to buy the best vegan shoes see The 32 best vegan shoe brands to give you a conscious free spring in your step and for the best UK vegan fashion see The top 11 UK-based vegan clothing brands you need to know about in 2022.
Ethical and sustainable fashion statistics show that interest in the sustainable fashion sector has been increasing in recent years.
85. Environmental impact influences shopping decisions: According to McKinsey’s The State of Fashion 2021 report, more than three in five consumers say that environmental impact influences their shopping decisions.
86. Use of sustainable materials important: A 2020 survey of European consumers found that 67 per cent consider a brand’s use of sustainable materials to be an important factor when deciding which products to buy.
87. Over 1/3 rise in sustainability-related searches: Lyst has witnessed a 37 per cent rise in searches for sustainability-related terms since the beginning of 2020.
Consumers are also willing to pay more for sustainable fashion:
88. 1/3 willing to pay more: According to The Global Sustainability Study 2021, one-third of consumers are willing to pay a higher price for environmentally friendly products.
89. Londoners particularly willing to pay more: Research by OnBuy in 2019 found that 57% of Londoners were willing to pay more for sustainable fashion if they thought that the products represented good value for money.
90. Organic cotton searches 23% up: Searches for “organic cotton” had increased by 23% since November 2019.
91. Searches up for 2nd hand, vegan & organic: In 2020, UK fashion searches for the terms “organic,” “secondhand,” and “vegan” increased by 17%.
92. Eco t-shirts & sustainable activewear: “Eco t-shirts” was one of the most searched for terms in 2020, averaging over 1,000 monthly searches. And the search term “sustainable activewear” saw a 151% year-on-year increase.
93. Sustainable swimwear 65% up: Searches for “sustainable swimwear” saw a 65% year-on-year increase with Australia leading the way, followed by the UK and the US.
In 2021, Depop and Bain & Company collaborated on a first of its kind report on Gen Z to find out whether sustainable clothing was more important to younger generations.
Key findings included:
94. Want to reduce consumption: 75% of Gen Z respondents said that the reason they bought pre-loved clothes was to cut down on consumption.
95. 90% have made adjustments: 90 per cent of Gen Z respondents said they have made adjustments in their daily life to be more sustainable and that sustainable fashion practices played an important role in this.
96. Social & environmental commitments important: Brand promises regarding social and environmental sustainability have a big impact on Gen Z’s fashion purchases. A brand’s commitment to fair wages and workplace safety influenced 70% of those polled and a brand’s commitment to a lower carbon footprint influenced 60% of respondents.
For more about this future generation see Does Gen Z care about sustainability? Stats & facts in 2022.
Good Maker Tales Survey
We questioned 183 people about what they were interested in and how much they already knew about ethical and sustainable fashion.
The results were very interesting! Some of the key findings were:
97. Few knew a great deal about sustainable fashion: Only 7% of those surveyed said that they knew a great deal about ethical and sustainable fashion. 100% of them were women.
98. Child labour particularly of interest: People were most interested in knowing about the steps brands were taking to eradicate child labour (84%).
99. Younger buy more frequently: Respondents who buy clothing at least once a month are younger and more concerned about environmental than social issues.
100. Nearly half wanted to find out more: 42% of respondents were “very interested” to find out more about ethical and sustainable fashion.
101. Water pollution, carbon emissions & deforestation of great interest: Regarding the planet, toxic chemical use leading to water pollution was the subject that most respondents found interesting, with 80% “very interested” to know more. This was followed by what measures brands were taking to reduce energy and carbon emissions (74% of respondents found this interesting) and what brands were doing to reduce deforestation (73% found this interesting).
Sustainable Trends: A Step in The Right Direction
It’s clear from the above ethical fashion statistics that demand for sustainable fashion is increasing, partly thanks to an environmentally-conscious millennial and Gen Z consumer market.
However, while consumer desire for sustainable products has increased, sustainability in the fashion industry still has a long way to go.
Given pressing environmental issues like climate change and plastic pollution, it’s vital that we continue pressing for the fashion industry to clean up its act. And at the same time for governments to enforce best practices.
There’s a lot of work to be done.
A great way we can help is by supporting sustainable and ethical brands when we need to buy new.
Whether you’re looking for a new ethical jumpsuit, sustainable swimwear or an ethical handbag, we’ll continue to share our favourite brands on a mission to green fashion.
And of course, we’ll keep exploring a wide range of issues to bring you the latest sustainable fashion facts on topics such as on-demand clothing manufacturing and biodegradable fabrics.
Please share this article with your family and friends and let’s keep the trends moving in the right sustainable direction.