The social and environmental impact of the clothing industry and what can we do against it

For the first time in the history on November 25th 2016 the city of Groningen welcomed the traditional American Black Friday. Walking through town you could feel shop windows flirting with the crowd: Zara with its bright red panels 20% off, H&M with its very seducing “on sales“ signs and so on. You were out cause you needed a pair of socks and ended up with : a brand new scarf, two cardigans, a jeans, a Christmas dress, a bra, 4 panties, a pair of black tights, a bandana for your hair, earrings for new year’s eve, 2 t-shirts, a skirt, and a bracelet. As you came home you started unpacking everything: DRAMA ! In the maze of your own desire for material possessions you had forgotten the socks, which were the reason why you went shopping in the first place. Call it propaganda or madness but for sure the Black Friday is well named. Black because behind these pretty colorful shop windows lays an ocean of darkness: environmental disasters, modern day slavery and death of thousands of human beings.

The environmental and social impact of the clothing industry : the case of cotton
Each year 20 million tons of cotton is produced to answer the needs of the fashion industry. Knowing that about 20 000 liters of water is needed to produce 1 kilo of cotton, that brings us to 400 000 billion liters of water per year. 400 000 BILLION liters, which represents 160 million Olympic swimming pools[1]. On top of that you can add a tremendous amount of pesticides, insecticides and GMO seeds which are all badly damaging the soil and biodiversity. This makes the clothing industry one of the most polluting in the world. But that’s not it. In addition to being highly polluting, cotton also generates very high social costs.

Farmers and rural communities from all over the world suffer from health issues due to the use of chemicals for harvesting cotton. Others favor the use of GMO[2] seeds, they make an agreement with Monsanto, buy the seeds but most of them remain unable to pay back their debts. Eventually they lose their property and many commit suicide. In the last 16 years, just within India, 250 000 farmers ended their lives for this same reason, about 1 farmer every 30 minutes[3].

However not only farmers are affected. I wish I could end here but I yet have to speak about modern day slavery, child’s work and critical working condition resulting in the death of thousands of people. Just as a reminder in 2013 more than 1500 people – which by the way were paid less than 2 euros a day – died due to poor safety standards in clothing factories[4]. Some were caught on fire, others collapsed. Now the term Black Friday somehow totally makes sense. I’m not writing this piece to make you feel guilty or anything. I just want to bring more awareness into people’s mind especially as there are more sustainable ways of shopping clothes. We have an enormous power : we have the choice and our choice is what determines the world we live in.

So what can we do?
Come swap some clothes at the O-swap event organized by the USVA on the 9th of December. For further informations please click on the following O-Swap banner!


Go to second hand stores, there are plenty good ones in Groningen. Of course it’s not always easy to find the right second hand product but it’s always worth it to try. Second hand is great : it’s recycling, it’s local, it’s mostly held by non-profit associations and goes to charity and it’s awesome for your wallet. So just do it, I know it sounds like nothing but already by doing that you will change a lot, at least you will allow the change to happen. As Mahatma Gandhi said : “Be the change that you wish to see in the world’’.

By Maéva Mouton

[1] Sources: WWF Report “Thirsty crops: Our food and clothes : eating up nature and wearing out the environment?”
[2] Genetically modified organisms. For further informations about GMOs and Monsanto we recommend to watch “GMO OMG: is it the end of real food?”
[3] Sources: Documentary “The true cost”
[4] Sources: Documentary “The true cost”

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