When we think of climate change or pollution, we don't necessarily think first of the fashion industry. But modern textiles rely heavily on petrochemical products that come from many of the same oil and gas companies driving greenhouse gas emissions. Today, in fact, fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Where does this come from? Let's break down parts of this lifecycle -
From Seed (?) to Yarn
Over the last few decades apparel has moved from largely cotton or natural fibres to primarily a synthetic materials such as polyester. This makes our clothing a fossil fuel derivative.
Petroleum, extracted from wells, is used to make petrochemical products like plastics and polyester. The petroleum is transported to refineries, where petrochemical products can be produced. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is formed using heat and high pressure and solvents, creating a liquid that is then pressed and cut to make pellets. Those pellets are melted and stretched to make one form of synthetic polyester yarn used commonly in textiles. The yarn is woven and can be blended with other materials to create a variety of clothes.
Alternative natural materials such as Cotton, seem like an ideal solution. However they are not without their own challenges. It takes about 20,000 litres of water to make a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans, putting significant pressure on local rivers and freshwater basins.