Fashion for the Earth

Fast Fashion and Its Devastating Impacts on Forests Revealed

Statistics change frequently in the fast fashion industry, with more and more research into fast fashion and how it impacts the Earth.  In this series, we want to present the most up-to-date facts on what these impacts are on Air, Water, Soil, Forests, and Oceans so you, the reader, know what your fast-fashion purchase means — or doesn’t.  This is Forests. 

In the fast-paced world of fashion, trends have gone from shifting seasonally to weekly, driving the production and consumption of cheap and disposable clothing at unprecedented rates. And, the demand for fashion is only growing with revenues from 2020 to 2022 up 20%. The true cost of fast fashion extends far beyond our wardrobes. Deforestation is one of its most significant environmental impacts, as forests are cleared to make way for the fashion industry.

Each year over 200 million trees are cut down to be transformed into textiles for clothing, and most concerning fast fashion, production. These trees are logged, processed with chemicals, dissolved into wood pulp, and then transformed into cellulosic fabrics like viscose, rayon, lyocell, modal, and cupro. Worse yet, the demand for wood pulp is growing and production is projected to be 15 million tons higher in 2035 than it was in 2018, leading to the destruction of millions of trees, and the ecosystems they are a part of.

Trees play a vital role in regulating our environment. When forests are destroyed, the ecosystems housed within them are destroyed. 70% of Earth’s land animals live in forests and rely on trees for nutrients, food, and shelter. Many species cannot survive the loss of their habitats, leading to disruptions in the entire food chain within affected ecosystems. Deforestation is the leading cause of biodiversity loss across the world. Considering wildlife populations have declined 69% in the past 48 years, this is an urgent problem.

In addition to the importance of trees within the ecosystem, trees also play a vital role in regulating the Earth’s climate by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Since 2000, forests are estimated to have removed an average of 2 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually. This means the removal of forests contributes to higher levels of CO2, leading to the greenhouse effect and heightened global warming. Worse yet, the process of deforestation itself leads to CO2 emissions as the carbon stored in trees and their soil is released back into the environment. Since 1850, deforestation has been the cause of roughly 30% of all CO2 emissions.  

The fashion industry has been linked to the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon. Aside from the use of trees for the manufacture of cellulosic fibers, many major fashion companies are accelerating the deforestation of the Amazon to aid production of their leather products. Between 2001 and 2015, more than 20 million hectares of forest were deforested for pasture, making up half of the Amazon’s total tree loss. If this pattern of deforestation continues, the Earth’s forests will be decimated, leaving a barren landscape behind.

While there is still a long way to go in mitigating the damage of deforestation, some fashion companies are embracing sustainable practices by sourcing materials from certified sustainable forests and the companies developing sustainable, man-made cellulosic fabrics. But these actions are not enough. There must be industry-wide collaboration on the part of fashion brands, manufacturers, policymakers, and consumers to address deforestation.

When shopping for clothing, it is crucial to understand what has gone into making the garments you purchase. The power lies with us as consumers to transform the fashion industry into a positive force by spending our money on clothing made both sustainably and ethically. Reject the profiteering of the fast fashion industry by focusing on quality over quantity, shopping secondhand, and creating a capsule wardrobe. Make your voice heard, read more about Fashion for the Earth and The Canopy Project, and sign the Fashion Industry Must Change petition.