Environmental Studies Program


Date of this Version



Environmental Studies Undergraduate Student Thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2022


Copyright 2022, Schafer Flowerday


The clothing industry is worth $1.5 trillion dollars and rapidly expanding (Statista, 2021). The industry is dominated by fast fashion, which accounts for clothing that is quickly and cheaply produced, based on ever-changing trends. 90% of textiles produced are made in low-income countries, predominantly in South Asia (Seigel, 2011). This systematic literature review looks into the impact this industry has on these vulnerable populations which are working and living in areas where clothing is produced. Environmental and Occupational health hazards and impacts were researched. Environmental impacts occur at each step of the process. Polyester is the most common textile, and is derived from oil, leading to a large carbon footprint. Even natural fibers, such as cotton, require significant amounts of water to grow and use pesticides with additional harmful effects. The dyeing process leads to polluted wastewater being dumped in bodies of water, creating hazards for aquatic life and humans. Occupational hazards arise in part from a lack of regulations in the countries clothing is made in. Hazards present include physical (building collapses and fires), chemical (present in dyes and other processes), ergonomic (long hours with minimal moving and repetitive work), and psychological (low wages and high pressure to meet quotas). Because of these environmental and occupational impacts, the clothing industry is a source of environmental injustice. While wealthier countries create the highest demand for textiles, they are not the populations which are exposed to the hazards. There needs to be a dramatic decrease of consumeristic behavior on our parts as a collective society. Apparel businesses also need to change their sources and methods to account for workers’ health and resource sustainability to mitigate this injustice.