Fast Fashion’s Far-Reaching Strain on the Environment


With the growth and rise of fast fashion, there has been immense stress put on the planet as the practices used to create, maintain, and dispose of garments degrades the environment. Consumers in 2019 purchased 60 percent more garments than shoppers 15 years prior, and that percentage likely increased over the last 4 years.[1]To fully understand the magnitude of this issue, we must address the history of the fashion and textile industries’ environmental impact, international law’s role in mitigating and preventing further environmental harm, and the struggle of enforcement.

A majority of the fashion and textile industry’s environmental impact occurs during the manufacturing of textiles, growth and production of materials, and the processing and finishing of garments.[2] Combining each of these levels of the supply chain, the fashion industry is responsible for 2-8 percent of global carbon emissions.[3]While there has been a push for consumers to purchase second hand and donate their unwanted garments, 85 percent of discarded garments go straight to the landfill.[4] From a company’s perspective, there is also insufficient pressure to change their methods for greener options due to a lack of regulation. Also, those who have made changes feel “commercially punished.”[5]

International environmental law has recently begun tackling the issue of hazardous waste from the garment and textile industries regarding both production and end use. This is largely due to the ramifications of the industry being felt more deeply in developing nations and poor communities around the world.[6] The United Nations (U.N.) has taken steps to address the environmental issues in the fashion industry from various directions. The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action (the Fashion Charter herein) was recently introduced as an international agreement between many private fashion companies and NGOs supporting the cause, many of whom collaborated at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24).[7] The Fashion Charter adopted “the substantive goals of the Paris Agreement and supported several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”[8] Under the Fashion Charter, it is of paramount importance to “achieve net-zero Greenhouse Gas emissions” in fashion and textiles by 2050.[9] Signatories of the Fashion Charter will publicly report their GHG emissions annually, which not only encourages accountability but also allows consumers to access data to make informed decisions.[10] The changes made to the fashion and textile sector will take a massive amount of stress off of the environment as the industry is globally the third largest manufacturing sector.[11]

On March 14, 2019, the U.N. also launched the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion which has a goal to end environmentally and socially destructive fashion practices.[12] The Alliance coordinates efforts of U.N. bodies that work in fashion, and make sure the Sustainable Development Goals are being met.[13] The Alliance works with garments and textiles at all steps of the manufacturing cycle, including the: production of raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of garments and textiles.[14] Additional groups are working on innovative ways to make fashion more sustainable, including The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. promoting “Blue Fashion”, which utilizes marine materials.[15]

Countries specializing in textile production are also taking initiative to reduce the negative impact their industries have on the environment.[16]Beginning in 2022, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Vietnam began a chemical fighting initiative worth $43 million to “manage and reduce hazardous chemicals in their textile industries.”[17] The 5-year program will furnish tools and technical support to textile and garment manufacturers to educate and improve management of the hazardous chemical waste.[18] These efforts will also encourage manufacturers to focus on supply chain transparency and occupational health, and increase investment in “eco-innovation.”[19]

To protect the environment against degradation and immense waste from the fashion industry, environmental laws and regulations must be implemented on the global scale. Many of the U.N.’s initiatives discussed above currently have only companies as signatories rather than countries, but these initiatives are the most significant efforts made to address this issue through policy.[20] This is, however, a downfall of the detailed initiatives, because only companies and NGOs are signatories to the Fashion Charter, meaning they must choose to adhere to reporting requirements and sustainable practice development. If companies are not required to join the Charter, and lack incentive to do so, it could be difficult for any benefits to be substantially felt by the Fashion Charter. Additionally, in 2023, it was already determined that the Fashion Charter was unlikely to reach the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.[21]

To get back on track and to continue to progress, there must be incentives for companies to adopt green changes, so they are not disadvantaged within the fashion community and have a chance to remain successful drivers of change.

[1] Press Release, Environment Programme, U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion addresses damage of ‘fast fashion,’ U.N. Press Release (Mar. 14, 2019),

[2] Elizabeth Jane Poland, Fashioning Compliance: The Fashion Charter for Climate Action and Strategies for Forming a More Effective Fashion Industry Agreement, 49 Ga. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 407, 414 (2021).

[3] U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion addresses damage of ‘fast fashion’, supra note 1.

[4] Deny Andreas Krismawan, Free Trade Area Agreement: Impact on the Fashion Industry and Environmental Protection in Indonesia, 4 Int’l J. of Global Community 153, 155 (2021).

[5] Elizabeth Paton, Editorial, The New Laws Trying to Take the Anxiety Out of Shopping, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2022),

[6] See Poland, supra note 2, at 417.

[7] Poland, supra note 2, at 418.

[8] U.N. Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] See Id.

[12] U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion addresses damage of ‘fast fashion’, supra note 1.

[13] United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, Geneva Environment Network,

[14] Id.

[15] U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion addresses damage of ‘fast fashion’, supra note 1.

[16] Press Release, Environment Programme, Textile-producing nations unite to reduce chemical waste (Oct. 12, 2022).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Poland, supra note 2, at 419.

[21] Rachel Cernansky, The Fashion Charter is on track to miss its key goal. What Now?, Vogue Business (April 27, 2023),