“Unveiling Fashion”: Addressing the Hidden Problems of Waste, Environmental Sustainability, and Labor Issues One Garment at a Time

George Washington University, Washington DC, Sept. 29, 2018


Even after years of hearing and writing about sustainability issues in the clothing industry, I still shudder at the enormity of the problems. But, I also feel inspired by the innovative thinkers who are helping to solve them, some of whom were at the Unveiling Fashion event I attended on 9/29/18 at the George Washington University Textile Museum, run by the DC Sustainable Fashion Collaborative. (I was happy to be a sponsor and raffle off the Green Wardrobe Guide!) It is extremely gratifying to see how interest and solutions are growing in the field of fair, eco-fashion! From the amazing expert speakers, I learned these 15 surprising facts all clothing-wearers should know:

  1. 1 in 6 of the world’s laborers work in some aspect of the fashion industry, and 80% of garment workers are women. A recent NY Times article highlighted how some big name luxury items are often produced by people earning $2/day. There is modern slavery happening in garment-producing countries, and female workers are threatened with violence if they attempt to unionize. Fashion Revolution ran a campaign called Who Made my Clothes? to pressure companies to institute better transparency. They also have a program to offer clothing swaps and promote upcycling at high schools.
  2. Fashion industry = 5-10% of global greenhouse gases
  3. There are now “sewbots” that can sew basic clothing together like sheets and socks, which may bring big change to the garment industry.
  4. There is a product called Guppy Friend that helps take polyester microfibers out of your laundry.
  5. Household waste has grown overall 6% since 2000 but textile waste has increased 71% in that time, due to “fast fashion” (or “junk food fashion,” as one speaker put it) that keeps us buying cheaper goods that don’t last.
  6. Only 1% of textiles are re-made into new fabrics. 85% ends up in landfills. Thrift stores can only handle about 20% of donations so 80% end up being shredded into “shoddy” for seat cushion stuffing or sent overseas where it disrupts local economies.
  7. Though product producers and distributors like Amazon create a lot of packaging and shipping waste, they are not responsible for dealing with the waste – municipalities are, which means more taxpayer dollars spent for hauling and disposal. Re-Thread DC is an initiative to collect and repurpose disposed textiles to reduce waste. DC has passed a law that producers must take back at least 10% of the products they sell for recycling. There is a great economic development opportunity in materials re-use…
  8. India has banned genetic engineering of food crops, but that does not apply to cotton. One Indian farmer trapped in a cycle of expensive chemical use commits suicide every half hour.
  9. 52% of organic product shoppers are millennial so this is not a trend that is going away anytime soon.
  10. There is a “Regenerative” movement that is going beyond organic to focusing on replenishing depleted soil so it can better sequester carbon; soil from which our food and clothing fibers are grown.
  11. Stretch fabrics like Spandex are hard to make in an eco-friendly way and often cannot be recycled.
  12. Some textile dyes can be made using seaweed.
  13. Vogue magazine Australia, just hired a sustainability editor – (which is a big deal for a magazine that usually promotes many not- eco-friendly products)
  14. Greenwashing – sometimes stories told about products are misleading- one speaker said sometimes Guatemalan women may give up their handwoven textiles for a few dollars to put food on table, only to have them resold in the U.S. for hundreds because they are traditionally hand-made items.
  15. Idea: To help customers shop sustainable items, couldn’t Amazon have a sort function based on various standards such as Fair Trade?

So what are shoppers to do? There is no perfect answer right now, but as I said in the Green Wardrobe Guide—don’t buy what you don’t need, shop in thrift stores, seek out plant-based fabrics with natural dyes, and mend, donate or swap your clothes so they hopefully get another life. Do your homework and ask questions—consumer demand brings about change!!

Kudos to the DC Sustainable Fashion Collaborative! If you want to know more about the above, here are the groups to follow that are making a huge difference towards a more sustainable, equitable world:

5 Gyres

Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator

Fair Trade America

Fashion Revolution



Free the Slaves


Green America

Guppy Friend

Lady Farmer

Metawear – Founded by author and ecopreneur Marci Zaroff

RRS Recycle


#unveilingfashion #sustainablefashion #5Gyres #BFDA #FairTrade #FashionRevolution #Fibershed #FreetheSlaves # Goodweave #GreenAmerica #GuppyFriend #LadyFarmer #Metawear #MarciZaroff #Recycle #Textiles #Green_Wardrobe_Guide

Beth Fiteni

Reader Interactions


  1. I worked in the garment center for 17 years and never considered most of this. Excellent coverage on an important topic that impacts us daily. Thank you Beth.