Apparel production is the second-largest user of the world’s freshwater supply.

Freshwater ecosystems are essential for human survival. But despite their value and importance many lakes, rivers, and wetlands around the world are being severely damaged by human activities and are declining at a much faster rate than the ecosystems found on land. Watersheds, which catch precipitation such as rain and snow and channel it to streams and lakes, are highly vulnerable to pollution.  As the climate is getting more unreliable with reoccurring droughts and floods, reliance on water is a big risk. Additionally, water is a big source of conflict, both within the community and between nations.

The fashion industry’s impact

Apparel production is the second-largest user of the world’s fresh water supply. It is also directly linked to waterway pollution and accounts for 4% of global freshwater withdrawal. Chemicals are used for e.g. washing dyed and printed fabric and yarn, which results in polluted water. Conventional cotton farming is water-intense, putting enormous stress on water resources, competing with water needed to produce food and providing basic needs. Producing one pair of jeans for example takes about 7,500 litres of water. 

Unsound practices and poor wastewater management impact not only the health of textile workers, but also communities living near facilities, consumers of textile products, waste collectors and secondary processors, and the wider environment.

What we need to do

There is an urgent need for protection of freshwater resources through cleaner water processes, as well as joining a shift to less water-consuming production methods. The fashion industry can take direct action through direct operations, supply chain, and wider water basin health. New production solutions can reduce contaminated wastewater and nonbiodegradable waste from production, and waterway pollution from microfiber. This can result in healthier living conditions for wildlife and humans in affected regions, as well as more prosperous growth. Reducing the water footprint throughout the supply chain can make water use more efficient, reduce environmental impacts and avoid future freshwater shortages. 

Global Commons


Cotton accounts for 2.4% of global cropland, but stands for 22.5% of the insecticide use.


Apparel supply chains are directly linked to soil degradation and habitat loss.


The textile industry accounts for up to 10% of global carbon emissions.


35% of all microplastics in the ocean comes from the laundering of synthetic textiles.