The Water Cost of Clothing

The clothing choices you make today can have a serious impact on tomorrow’s environment.


Julia Boyle

The clothing we wear today , no matter how trendy, can have an effect on on our future planet.

Look down at your shirt. I think it looks nice on you. But I have to tell you something. It took around 800 gallons of water to make that single garment. I know, that’s a massive amount of water for one article of clothing, but it’s the truth. The long term effects of the fashion industry could be detrimental to the preservation of our planet. 

One of the biggest issues in the fashion industry is fast-fashion. Brands like Shein and Romwe are quick to produce items of clothing that are “in” just to make a quick dollar, no matter what negative effect it has on the planet. There are a few issues with this. According to Good On You, fast-fashion brands have not tried to reduce any use of hazardous chemicals and plastics, as their goal is to sell as many articles of clothing as they can. This brings us to our second issue: for every shirt made, 700-800 gallons of water is used. When brands like Shein and Romwe try to push out mass amounts of clothing, millions of gallons of water are used, which is detrimental to the preservation of our planet. 

The Organic Trade Association reports that less than one percent of the cotton grown worldwide is organic. When a brand uses non-organic cotton, tons of synthetic pesticides and chemicals are used which is incredibly harmful for the environment. Organic cotton is completely handpicked, rather than being machine picked like regular cotton. We also know that regular cotton seeds have been genetically modified to make them resistant to bugs. This is a huge issue in and of itself, as the bugs adapt, causing even more synthetic chemicals to be used. According to The World Counts, $3.3 billion worth of chemicals are sprayed in the US alone each year. 

Even after getting rid of the latest fashion trend from your closet, the effect that making that piece of clothing has on the enviornment is long lasting, according to How to Buy Clothes That Are Built to Last by Kendra Pierre-Louis of The New York Times. The growth of fast fashion isn’t helping the environment, either. Zara, a fast fashion brand, releases 20,000 new designs per year which is wasteful, as people continue to buy things they do not need and will wear twice before they throw it out.  

Okay, we know that was a lot. You probably feel like there is literally nothing you can do. Getting companies to implement changes that will only make it harder and more expensive for them seems impossible. How can you make changes that are better for the Earth? Take initiative! Good On You is a website that rates the ethics and sustainability behind clothing brands. With the click of a button you can have a rating on most of your favorite brands. One of the best things about Good on You is that they provide an alternative, higher rated brand that is similar in price and style to the brand you just searched for. 

A lot of the changes that you need to make have to happen at an individual level. Instead of buying new clothes, go thrift shopping. Stores like Goodwill and Savers sell used clothes for cheap. It is less wasteful than buying brand new, as you are giving this item of clothing a second life. Unless a piece is absolutely destroyed, don’t throw an item away. Give them a new life! You could sew your old tee-shirts from past events into a quilt. Take your old flannel and sew it into a mask. Then, if none of these options work for you, you can donate it to Goodwill. Try to limit the amount of new articles of clothing you buy, it can have a real effect on the planet.

Works Cited


Good on You. Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.

Organic Trade Association. Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.

Pierre-Louis, Kendra. “How to Buy Clothes That Are Built to Last.” New York Times, 25 Sept. 2019, Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.

The World Counts. Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.