Toxic Challenges and Opportunities in the Apparel Industry


Certified Financial Planner™
Accredited Investment Fiduciary®
Certified Financial Transitionist (CeFT®)
Owner/Founder of Sustainable Wealth Advisors
Founding Member of Sustainable Advisors Alliance, LLC

When we think of sustainability issues, the apparel industry is probably not the first thing to come to mind. The current environmental and social realities of this vast industry present some huge challenges though. Much attention has been paid recently to the consequences of the “fast fashion” phenomenon, in which mass retailers create and sell inexpensive clothing in response to the latest trends (e.g. Forever 21, H&M, Forever 21, Target, Uniqlo and Zara). Using cheap materials and labor allows companies to churn out new collections rapidly, but the model has some serious drawbacks. According to a McKinsey and Company study, consumers purchased 60% more items of clothing in 2014 vs. 2000, but kept each items half as long. These garments either fell apart, fell out of style or were simply viewed as disposable.

A recent study by the Ellen McArthur Foundation found that one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second. And the Copenhagen Fashion Summit reported that fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year. If current trends continue, the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the entire planet’s carbon budget by 2050. This “take, make and dispose” M.O. is not only wasteful, but also polluting. Clothes release half million tons of microfibers into the ocean annually (equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles!). Around 100,000 marine animals are killed each year due to microfibers and other forms of plastic waste. To compound matters, they are extremely difficult to remove and are now interfering with food chains. The fashion industry is also the second-biggest consumer of water, producing 20 percent of wastewater while also generating more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

The no-waste economy should be applied to fashion, just as it is in the food industry. We need action at each stage of the supply chain, starting with sustainable sourcing of fabrics, through to design, exploration of possible alternatives to distribution, and recovery and recycling of clothing.

With the major environmental concerns, it’s easy to overlook the appalling workplace conditions and human rights abuses. According to unions and workers’ rights groups, pressure to meet fast deadlines is leading to women working in some Asian factories being sexually and physically abused.

The economic impact is also staggering. Approximately $500B is lost every year due to clothing that’s barely worn and typically not recycled.

Green America, a network of businesses committed to sustainable practices of which I’m a member, has done some great work on this issue and has some great resources including a Consumer Guide that highlights steps that everyone can take to make a difference. It also provides a scorecard of major U.S. apparel manufacturers sustainability record, a guide to chemicals of concern, and an FAQ. The report and the other resources are available at

In the custom sustainable investing portfolios we manage for our clients, we’re able to screen out the companies that are the laggards, leaving those companies that are making real progress in confronting these issues. It’s always critical though to look at the risk and return consequences of any screening so our process ensures that our screened portfolios are still properly balanced and diversified.
Harry Moran,

Harry Moran helps socially conscious investors define and achieve their highest goals by aligning their money with their values. He is a 30-plus year veteran of the financial advisory profession. He began working with sustainable investments in 1988 and made the commitment to specialize in this approach in 2001. In 2011, he founded Sustainable Wealth Advisors (SWA) to further this vision. He is a member of First Affirmative Financial Network, a national professional organization dedicated to meeting the needs of the socially conscious investing community. In April 2021, he became a Founding Member of Sustainable Advisors Alliance, LLC. SWA’s affiliation with Sustainable Advisors Alliance, LLC offers the firm the opportunity to collaborate with a dedicated group of financial professionals who also specialize in Impact Investing. Mr. Moran can be reached directly at [email protected] or 518-450-1755.

This content reflects the opinions of the author and is subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that any statements, opinions, or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Mention of specific securities, funds, or companies should not be considered an offer or a recommendation to buy or sell the security, fund, or company. Remember, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and no investment strategy can assure success. To determine the suitability of any particular investment, please consult with your investment adviser.

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