The Environmental Impact Of Fashion – Natural Is Not Always The Answer


As the population of the world has expanded, consumerism appears to have grown with it. Add to that the thirst for cheaper and cheaper products and increased price awareness due to the internet and you have a recipe for disaster. The human and environmental cost of cheap fashion is an issue which has come to the fore in recent years leading the environmentally aware to turn to what appear to be sustainable and eco-friendly products but just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it is always a good thing.

Jeans and Acrylics

It is becoming common knowledge that the use of man-made fibers is problematic to the environment. These materials are produced from petrochemicals which are a depleting resource and the production processes can leach harmful chemicals into the water table and atmosphere. The dyes used in jeans manufacture is harmful in the same way and sandblasting techniques use vast amounts of valuable water and are spawning a raft of health issues for the low paid workers in the factories.


Simply turning to natural fibers is not the solution either unless they are organically produced as the pesticides used in agriculture also pollute the environment. Non-organic cotton accounts for a huge proportion of the planet’s agricultural land and is used to produce the cheap fashion that is so in demand on the high street but now it is becoming apparent that it is not just the budget end of the market that is to blame for fashion’s negative impact on the environment. No longer can we just wave an accusatory finger at consumers who seek out cheap garments. Luxury products are now also having a detrimental effect on our world too.


You may well question what could be wrong with cashmere. It is a natural fiber obtained from goats and thus contains no petrochemicals and is a renewable resource. The trouble is we just cannot get enough of this luxurious wool and now there are problems in Mongolia and China from where most of our cashmere is sourced. The number of cashmere goats being farmed in these regions has tripled over the last 20 years leading to agricultural land encroaching onto the natural habitats of indigenous species like the snow leopard. This is problematic enough but the goats are also eating the food supply of the leopards’ prey leading to less food for the leopard. This in turn is causing leopards to attack goats resulting in revenge attacks from the farmers seeking to protect their herds. The leopards and several other species are now in decline as the thirst for cashmere grows.


There is also a great demand for the ultimate in exclusivity – the shatoosh, an ultra-fine shawl fashioned from Tibetan antelope fibers. These garments cost up to $15,000 and it requires three animals to make a typical shawl. The antelopes are being aggressively hunted with even mothers being killed whilst they are giving birth.

The Future

So what can we do? We have to wear something and with so many people on the planet all of the resources at our disposal will have to be utilized. Just deciding not to opt for cashmere or other luxuries is not the answer. The farmers need to make a living from their goats otherwise we will have another problem on our hands. The solution has to be to choose sustainable, ethical fashion made from organically produced natural materials but we simply have to start buying less of it and recycling what we throw away. There is only so much production that our planet can sustain and we appear to have reached that level. Buy cashmere scarves and jumpers by all means, but do this as an occasional treat not a feeding frenzy and we just might survive the problems.


Article By Sally Stacey

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