How Can Waste Be Reduced in the Apparel Industry?

The apparel industry is incredibly wasteful, ranking fourth overall in terms of harm done to the planet in 2022. Each year 92 million tons of textile waste is produced globally. Research shows that the production of clothing has more than doubled in the last 15 years, while actual usage of clothes has shrunk by more than a third. Early estimates suggest that by 2030, more than 134 million tons of textile waste will be produced. Apparel manufacturing also consumes a large amount of water: to produce just one t-shirt takes 2,700 liters of water, enough to sustain a grown adult for two and a half years. Textile dyeing has also been linked to waste pollution, with contaminates entering fresh water supplies in developing countries.


Each year 92 million tons of textile waste is produced globally.


The primary reason for the apparel industry’s impact on the environment is overproduction of clothing items. Every season, 30% of clothes made are not sold. The unsold merchandise ends up being burned, producing more carbon emissions and waste. H&M revealed that they have burned 12 tons of unsold merchandise every year since 2013. An easy fix to this problem is for clothing brands to donate unsold merchandise, helping to fight consumer demand, as well as reduce waste by extending the product’s life cycle. Burberry after backlash for burning their own inventory, committed to recycling or donating unsold products.

An increasingly popular trend is on-demand production: brands only producing items if and when they are needed. This method of manufacturing is much more sustainable than the traditional model. There is a reduction in energy and pollution generated because only stock that will be sold is shipped. There is also less waste generated because less clothes are being produced overall. Technology can help apparel brands to shift to this new model. More and more sophisticated solutions exist in the market that can help brands pivot to on-demand production by using demand-forecasting, mass customizability options, and help with the design process.

In today’s climate, consumers and company stakeholders alike want to encourage more sustainable practices.

Another way to reduce waste is by utilizing more sustainable materials for clothing production. Instead of cotton, which uses large quantities of water, brands can choose to produce merchandise with materials such as bamboo or hemp. Bamboo grows quickly, can be grown in land not suitable for other crops, and is biodegradable, (depending on the other fabrics used), ultimately making it much more sustainable than cotton and polyester.

Lastly, a new approach that has become popular is the idea of upcycling and the circular economy. Upcycling is taking unwanted clothing, textiles, and fabrics and repurposing them into new clothing items. Upcycling can help bring down waste in the apparel industry in a number of different ways. Firstly, brands don’t need to source new materials, using unused stock takes pressure off things like water consumption and waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Upcycling can also help to reduce the amount of fabric wasted during the production process. It is estimated that about 25% to 40% of total fabric is wasted while in production. Apparel brands could repurpose this fabric, utilizing it in upcycling processes, helping to bring down the total textile fabric waste.

In today’s climate, consumers and company stakeholders alike want to encourage more sustainable practices. In all industries, this trend has been observed. The apparel industry has been lagging behind, but by adopting practices like on-demand production, recycling instead of burning clothes, using more sustainable materials like bamboo, and upcycling, the apparel industry can start to bring down the amount of waste being generated, working towards a more sustainable, circular economy.

TrackIT, Triple Tree’s solution for production tracking and visibility, can help apparel brands with increased and accurate production visibility, helping to bring down the excess supply. ColordesQ can help brands achieve their desired color with a higher first-time-right rate, helping to bring down waste during the production process.

How Can Waste Be Reduced in the Apparel Industry?
Azfar Hasan (CEO, Triple Tree Solutions)
Published 8 December 2022

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