It seems that the more we discover about the various issues within the fashion industry, the more there is to learn.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Microplastic pollution is another important topic to dive into when collecting sustainable fashion facts.
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.
Sustainable Fabric Trends
Understanding the impact that different fabrics have is vital for building a conscious future for fashion.
Natural fibres and fabrics
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.
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.
What about recycled cotton?
It’s good news for the planet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(See also statistics under the “recycled cotton” and “recycled polyester” headings above).
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.
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.
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’.
Pre-order Clothing Collections
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.
It’s most likely to happen in the lower tiers of supply chains, in activities like agriculture. This is what makes traceability so challenging.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Consumers are also willing to pay more for sustainable fashion:
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.
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.
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.
Please share this article with your family and friends and let’s keep the trends moving in the right sustainable direction.