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A display of vintage and secondhand boots from My Flaming Heart, a handmade and vintage boutique store in Houston Texas, USA.

A display of vintage and secondhand boots from My Flaming Heart, a handmade and vintage boutique store in Houston, Texas, USA.

Credit: simon leigh / Alamy Stock Photo


Call to action:

Reuse and recycle your clothing; buy only what you need and only from manufacturers who use natural fibers from regenerative sources or slow fashion practices.

The global clothing industry generates nearly $2 trillion in annual sales, employs more than 400 million people, and produces 100 billion items every year, 85 percent of which end up in a landfill or incinerated. On average, Americans buy a new article of clothing every five days. How clothes are made, the type of material they use, how fast they are replaced, and where they end up have major impacts on land, air, water, climate, labor, and human health, many of which are overlooked. Up to 20 percent of global water pollution can be traced to the dyeing and manufacture of textiles. The clothing and footwear industry accounts for 8-10 percent of humanity’s total carbon emissions. A major culprit is fast fashion. More than half of fast fashion products are discarded in less than a year. Most are made from synthetic materials, often petroleum-based, and are responsible for 35 percent of all plastic microfibers in the ocean. Labor conditions in fast fashion manufacturing shops are often unsafe, unhygienic, and rife with abuse. Clothing alternatives include reducing consumption, reuse, recycling, and slow fashion practices.

Nexus Rating SystemBeta

Solutions to the climate emergency have unique social and environmental effects, positive and negative. To develop a broader understanding of the solutions in Nexus, we rate each solution on five criteria.

Sources for each Nexus are graded numerically (-3 through 10), and the average is displayed as a letter grade. You can explore each source in depth by clicking “view sources” below. For more information, see our Nexus Ratings page.



Action Items


Learn how industrial clothing harms people and the planet. Humans began covering their bodies with furs and other types of clothing 120,000 years ago. The invention of the needle enabled garments to be sewn tightly together, as well as repaired and repurposed. During the Agricultural Revolution, linen and thread spun from wool became available, enabling the creation of cloth. During the Industrial Revolution, textile manufacturing was one of the first industries to be mechanized, with profound social, economic, and ecological consequences. However, it was the discovery of oil and the advancements in synthetic chemistry that ultimately had the greatest impact on our clothing and ourselves, particularly our physical health. Impacts include:

Learn what you can do. Join the slow fashion movement. While there are different definitions of slow fashion, the key principles include thoughtfulness, minimalism, localization, and endurance. You can sign the Slow Fashion Season pledge, consider switching to a capsule wardrobe, or only support businesses with slow fashion practices. Other actions:

Get active. Join a campaign or organization pushing for change in the fashion industry. The Clean Clothes Campaign is a grassroots global network of over 200  organizations working for an equitable garment and textile industry. You can support these kinds of organizations with a donation, follow them on social media, and share their work with friends. Demand living wage legislation across the garment, textile, and footwear industries. Challenge clothing companies using the template created by Fashion Revolution, which also provides a list of key organizations to support or follow.



Grow plants and raise livestock for their natural, regenerative fibers. By using regenerative agricultural practices, farmers can grow natural fibers without pesticides or fertilizers, raise fiber-producing animals, and join networks of like-minded producers, artisans, and designers. A leader in this field is Fibershed, a nonprofit in northern California that has many different resources available to farmers and ranchers, including a directory and a certification program for fiber. (see Regenerative Agriculture Nexus and Agroecology Nexus). Plant and animal options for fiber include:

  • Organic cotton. Approximately 25 percent of all garments in use today contain cotton. However, cotton has a highly problematic history, including its long association with slavery, and is one of the most troublesome in terms of its environmental impacts. Conventional cotton is water-hungry and frequently doused with agricultural chemicals. Organic cotton is grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. In addition, federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming.
  • Flax. The source for linen, flax, is a tall, annual plant that can grow to maturity in one hundred days. Its smooth fibers are durable, anti-microbial, and produce beautiful fabric. Flax is ideal for polyculture farming. It mixes well with other annual crops, including cereals, sunflowers, and canola. Unlike cotton, its water requirements are low. It can outcompete weeds, reducing the need for herbicides. Flax’s rapid growth rate makes it ideal as a cover crop and boosts its ability to store atmospheric carbon dioxide. Flax seeds are a nutritious source of food and feed.
  • Hemp. For millennia, hemp fibers have been cultivated as a source of food and fiber to make rope, paper, textiles, shoes, and lamp oil. Hemp plants grow quickly and thrive in many regions. Hemp seeds are nutritionally similar to soybeans. Hemp plants enhance soil health and sequester carbon dioxide twice as effectively as trees. Like flax, it can be integrated with other crops, as well as livestock, to maximize profitability. See Hemp Nexus.
  • Wool. Sheep were domesticated approximately ten thousand years ago, and humans have been using wool for a variety of clothing ever since. Sheep can thrive in many types of terrains and climates across the planet. Wool is unique. It can absorb water vapor both from the air and from the wearer’s perspiration, releasing energy and creating warmth in cold weather. It is flame-resistant, biodegradable, and comfortable. There are many types of sheep wool from many breeds across the world that can be used to create durable, functional, and heirloom-quality garments and utilitarian goods.
  • Other animal fibers. Other woolen fibers that can be used in clothing come from angora and cashmere goats, Suri and Huacaya alpacas, camels, guanaco, muskox, and yak. Yaks and goats produce small amounts of fiber and must be carefully combed. Alpaca fiber has air bubbles that create a highly insulating fiber whose texture and softness make it a favorite of clothing designers and artisans.
  • Silk. Silk production, called sericulture, began in China roughly six thousand years ago. For centuries, the details of production were a closely guarded secret. Silk wicks moisture more efficiently than cotton and dries quickly. It is a favorite material for base layers and long underwear, especially when blended with wool. There are many different varieties of silkworms, all of which feed on Mulberry leaves. Once mature, the silkworm spins a cocoon made of long filaments that are harvested and transformed into fabric. Organic silk is produced by organic farming methods that cultivate the mulberry trees.
  • Other fiber types. Other regenerative fibers include bamboo, which can be processed into a variety of different textiles; ramie, a silky fiber produced from a nettle plant; jute, a fiber similar to burlap produced by a jute plant; and coir, a natural fiber extracted from the husk of a coconut.

​​​​​Find and support markets for regenerative fiber. Networks of fiber producers, artisans, designers, and retailers exist in many regions. The nonprofit organization Fibershed connects fiber producers to designers and commercial markets that value regenerative goals, such as providing habitat for pollinators and birds, improving the water-holding capacity of soils, restoring ecosystems to health, and generating measurable climate benefits. Impacts are verified using a combination of soil measurements, computer modeling, and open-source data tools. For customers, verification allows them to link their clothing directly to practices that regenerate soil carbon and support local economies.

  • The Fibers Roadmap details opportunities for investors and others to support regenerative fiber producers.
  • Here is an article from the Center for Regenerative Agriculture on how to clean up the fashion industry from a producer’s perspective.


Clothing Companies

Recycle more clothing. Just 1 percent of the $100 billion worth of clothing manufactured each year is recycled into new garments. There are many reasons why the clothing industry doesn’t try harder to recycle its products, including the difficulty of recycling blended fabrics, the physical challenges posed by cotton, a lack of recycling infrastructure, the costs and fees associated with recycling, and the general attitude of industry that it is more efficient (and profitable) to make new clothes. To improve the situation, the authors of the MacArthur Foundation report A New Textiles Economy recommend:

  • Align clothing design and recycling processes. Clothing design and production typically do not consider what will happen when clothes are discarded. Designing garments with recycling in mind, as this guide describes, including using material blends based primarily on their functionality, is a crucial step in scaling up recycling.
  • Pursue technological innovation. Existing recycling technologies for common materials need to drastically improve their economics to capture the full value of the materials in recovered clothing. Improved sorting technologies would also support increased quality of recycling by providing well-defined feedstock, in particular in the transition phase until common tracking and tracing technologies exist.

Drastically reduce plastic microfiber release. Awareness of the contribution clothing makes to microplastic pollution is growing rapidly. There are types of materials and production processes that can substantially reduce the quantity of plastic microfibers shed by clothing. Research can give companies a clearer picture of the causes of microfiber shedding as well as inform solutions and identify gaps. Here is an example from Norway, where companies are making efforts to reduce microplastic in their garments. Polartec produces clothing that sheds less fiber as a result of engineering innovations.

Make durability more attractive. For many clothing types, durability is considered secondary to other traits, such as style and comfort. In fast fashion, it is treated as a negative quality. Many customers value high-quality, durable clothes, but a lack of availability and choices hinders the expansion of their market share. Clothing companies should focus on delivering quality garments and accessories that are durable, including the employment of new technologies to produce longer-lasting clothing.

Be transparent about your business practices. Many clothing companies do not disclose sufficient information about their products so that consumers can. Disclose information about your purchasing practices, what companies are part of the supply chain, and the materials and their environmental impacts in all your products. Be transparent about processing facilities and textile production sites involved. Use Fashion Revolution’s brand policies and commitments guide to report details about your supply chain. Tools such as the Higgs Product Tool can help companies understand the impacts of different materials and conduct life-cycle analyses. Take the Transparency Pledge about clothing supply chains.

Ensure livable wages and fair labor practices for your workers. Workers should be guaranteed living wages, reasonable working hours, and safe working conditions, not just within the clothing company itself but also all companies in the supply chain. Companies should ensure that no children are employed in the production process or that any forced labor is used anywhere along the supply chain. Workers should be allowed to form and register unions. You can refer to Fair Wear’s internationally recognized code of labor practices as a guide.

Take responsibility for your company’s textile waste. Many fast fashion corporations overproduce clothing for sale and then dump deadstock into non-competing markets, ship it to landfills, or even destroy it. Companies can produce fewer garments over fewer seasons, take more responsibility for what they produce, and restructure supply chains to pass excess to other designers and brands. For example, LVMH has launched an online market platform to sell off its deadstock high-end fabrics.

Decarbonize your supply chain. Coal-generated electricity used to produce clothing up and down supply chains, synthetic materials made of fossil fuels, and a sprawling global supply network are key factors in the clothing sector’s high rate of greenhouse gas emissions. This Stand Earth report identifies five critical focus areas to decarbonization of fashion supply chains. These include actual greenhouse emissions reductions, an increase of renewable energy across the supply chain, renewable energy advocacy, and low-carbon and greener shipping (see Maritime Shipping Nexus).


Mandate accountability and transparency in the fashion industry. Using tougher policies, regulations, and legislative action, governments can force clothing corporations to become accountable for their actions both at home and abroad. A big step would be requiring companies to be transparent about their practices, including whether they provide living wages, have suitable working conditions, and comply with labor laws and regulations. Most clothing companies, especially those that follow fast fashion supply chains, are not required to be more forthcoming, particularly with issues connected to their supply chains.

  • In 2022, the Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate with the goal of strengthening workers’ rights, improving wages in the U.S. clothing industry, and promoting equity.
  • While exact legislation would depend on the country, policies aligned with this set of recommendations drafted by the Environmental Audit Committee (UK) could serve as a role model. These include laws, reforms, and taxes to account for stronger labor practices, environmental costs, and textile waste.
  • In 2022, the European Commission presented a new strategy to make textiles more durable, reusable, and recyclable. The new strategy includes new ecodesign requirements for textiles, clearer information, and a Digital Product Passport, which calls companies to take responsibility and act to minimize their carbon and environmental footprints.
  • In the U.S., a raft of new regulatory proposals has emerged this year that are intended to drive greater sustainability in the textile and fashion industries. Here is a complete guide to clothing and textile regulation in the U. S. New legislation being proposed could redefine how clothing supply chains are regulated.

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