How The Fashion Industry Is Responding To Climate Change

close up shot of patterend and jumbled clothes on hangers

Recently it seems like the whole world’s been talking about climate change.

All week you’ve been hearing from us and our partners in the media report on climate change as part of the journalism initiative Covering Climate Now. And on Friday, students around the world are skipping school to voice their support for taking action against climate change as part of the Global Youth Climate Strike.

It seems like right now, climate change is trending.

And if there’s one industry out there that knows something about trends, it’s the fashion industry. Long known for churning out cheap garments and burning through resources, some fashion labels like fast fashion giant H&M are now embracing sustainable fashion trends. But can this industry—which is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions—really shed its wasteful business model in favor of one with a lower carbon footprint? Marc Bain, a fashion reporter at Quartz, Maxine Bédat from the New Standard Institute, and Linda Greer, global policy fellow with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs talk with Ira about the industry’s effort to reduce its climate impact.

Richard from Madison: I try and buy at least half of my clothing secondhand from places like St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill… Lara from Venice: When I buy clothing I try to make sure that it’s of a natural fiber, that it’s made locally, sometimes even fair trade or organic… David from North Carolina: One thing that I’m looking for is a few good pieces that I can wear over and over instead of hundreds of pieces in my closet… Tamara from Colorado: I consider the environmental impact of my personal clothing extremely conscientiously when I’m picking out clothes. I choose to visit thrift stores. My professional clothes, they’re work pants, they’re heavy-duty pants—I can’t factor in the environmental thoughts for that one, unfortunately.

cartoon car spewing co2 next to a pair of jeans and text that says "making one pair of jeans produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as a car driving 69 miles" against a yellow background
Designed by Andrea Corona
cartoon image of a landfill with text that says "non-biodegradeable fabric can sit in landfills for up to 200 years" and a cloudy sky in the background
Designed by Andrea Corona
27 cartoon water bottles lined up in a row with a "x100" next to it and text that says "2,700 liters of water are needed to make one cotton shirt" against a black background
Designed by Andrea Corona

Something You Can Do!

many items of clothing lined up on a rack
Credit: Shutterstock

Rethink how you shop for clothing. Instead of hitting the mall, buy used clothing. And if your local thrift shop isn’t cutting it, try an online used clothing retailer, like thredUP, The RealReal,, or many others. Have a kiddo that seems to grow out of their clothes every two weeks? There are even online options for used baby and children’s clothing, like Owl Tree Kids.

And when you’re finished with your clothes, extend their lifetime by tossing them into the donate pile, or selling them on an app like Poshmark or Depop. Some brands, like Eileen Fisher, even have buy-back programs for lightly worn clothing.