Challenges Faced by Apparel Manufacturers in Implementing Sustainability

The textile and apparel business faces a significant task when it comes to sustainability, and while with an increase in consciousness in recent years, there is still a long way to go. 

The textile and clothing industry has numerous negative effects on the environment, including a heavy reliance on water and energy resources, the use of hazardous substances in production, and the problem of appropriate disposal. Fast fashion has exacerbated the issues by resulting in millions of tons of clothing being thrown away annually.

It is no longer a secret that the fashion business is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Everyone, from consumers to producers, is aware of how fashion is destroying the environment. 

Businesses are attempting to adopt more environmentally friendly methods. All the stakeholders of the garment industry are trying their best to achieve sustainability in their work area. 

But out of all the stakeholders, it is most difficult for the manufacturers to implement sustainable practices in their workflow. 

There are many barriers that make it a difficult task for manufacturers, which are highlighted in this article.

1. Barriers to Achieving Social Sustainability:

In the apparel sector, workers are disposable just like the clothes they make.

However, it is the bitter truth but hard to accept. There are almost 40 million garment workers in the world but most of them are being detached from human rights.

  • Human rights issues: Poor people even children are forced to work at very low wages. Workers are forced to work overtime often exceeding the legal working hours without any compensation.
  • The working environment in the apparel sector is very unsafe and unhealthy. In this sector Trade Unions are missing which somewhere make it more difficult for the workers to raise their voice.
  • Gender Discrimination: Women in the Apparel sector all around the world face a different level of harassment whether it is sexual, physical, or mental. Approximately 80% of garment workers are women. Though being a major contributor, they have never got the essential right in the industry. Women migrants are forced to accept temporary employment contracts at very low wages.

2. Barriers to achieving economic sustainability

Costly Sustainable Row Materials: Excessive cost of sustainable row materials lead to think manufacturer twice before implementing sustainable practices in their manufacturing process.

Lack of Financial Resources: There are no government subsidies for the apparel sector therefore it is tough for them to arrange financial support.

Lack of Infrastructure: It makes the industry more difficult to reach its economical goal.

Misapprehension regarding cost: People have misconceptions that sustainable clothing is excessively costlier but they are not aware of its long-term impact. Therefore, there is less customer pull.

2.1 Production & Operational barriers:

Finding sustainable resources is one of the most difficult tasks. Traditional clothing materials like cotton and polyester can be energy and water intensive to make and are not good for the environment. Furthermore, a lot of environmentally friendly materials, like organic cotton and recycled polyester fibers, can be more costly and more difficult to find than conventional materials. Costs may also rise as a result of employing sustainable manufacturing techniques like using water-saving techniques and non-toxic dyes.

The production method itself is yet another significant obstacle. Many fashion businesses use the fast fashion business strategy, which puts speed and cost over sustainability. Inadequate labor methods, excess production, and waste can result from this. Companies must switch to a slower, more deliberate production process that prioritizes quality over quantity if they want to create sustainable fashion.

The disposal of textiles and apparel poses a third problem. The waste generated by the fashion industry is enormous, and conventional methods of disposal, like landfilling or incineration, are not environmentally friendly. The waste generated by the fashion industry must be reduced, and the recycling and reusing of garments must be encouraged.

2.2 The shortfall in technologies:

I think the reason why most SMEs are hesitant to implement sustainable practices is because of the dearth of trained labor required to adapt new technologies to local circumstances. The difficulties are numerous, and while some are addressed to some extent (such as appropriate chemical handling), others necessitate greater financial expenditure, which SMEs cannot afford, and many more.

The idea of eco-fashion entails repurposing clothing by creating, acquiring, and using items with the aim of having them used and widely dispersed in the market. However, a sizable portion of clothing is not recycled because there are no technological options available. 

While using recyclable materials, clothing makers struggle to keep up with the demand for more clothing. Ineffective waste collection, a faulty method of sorting clothing, a lack of recycling innovation, and a financing gap for recycling products are all obstacles to recycling clothing. Eco-fashion companies must address these issues by promoting the business scalability of recycling technologies in order to increase production.

3. Barriers to achieving environmental sustainability

More than 75 million people globally are employed by the fashion business, which has a global market value of over 2.5 trillion dollars and significantly contributes to our industries. The industry has experienced phenomenal development in recent years, with the output of clothing doubling between 2000 and 2014. Despite purchasing 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, individuals only wore the clothing for half as long. (McKinsey & Company, 2016).

Although the fashion industry is flourishing, a growing number of harmful environmental effects that the sector is accountable for are coming to light. Water resources are depleted, waterways and streams are polluted, and 10% of humanity's carbon pollution comes from the fashion industry. Additionally, according to the UNECE (2018), 85% of all textiles are disposed of annually, and washing some kinds of clothing releases a sizable quantity of microplastics into the water.

The opaqueness of the supply chain must be brought up in any discussion of environmental issues facing the textile and clothing sector. The manufacturing and delivery processes in this supply chain involve numerous stages, from locating raw materials to putting a completed product on the shelf. It is difficult to track the practices used at each step of the supply chain because so many parties are engaged in the process. 

The majority of companies currently have no idea where their basic materials are sourced from or how they are handled. However, this does not imply that supply chain openness cannot be implemented. Transaction certificates and sustainability approvals (like GOTS, BCI, and others) are used by brands that are concerned about end-to-end sustainability. In this situation, the sourcing procedure may entail extra expenses, but it is unquestionably worthwhile because the environmental cost decreases.

4. Other barriers:

Rapid Globalisation trade: In this present scenario competition amongst the manufacturers has increased. Everyone is concerned about making as much profit using less economy. At this point, applying sustainability is a challenging topic for them.

Fast fashion as an inhibitor: The industry is identified by low quality, short-term use, and frequent clothing replacement all of these results in the increase of textile waste.

Lack of demand from Customers: Customers are not aware of the clothing production process and the context in detail so they are not keen on sustainability yet as a result there is not that much demand which can make most of the manufacturers practice sustainability.

It is evident that implementing sustainability in the apparel industry is very challenging. There are many issues to be addressed for the green industry such as abusive labor practices, unsafe working conditions, lack of knowledge, and many more. Overcoming all these problems is not such an easy task but it is not impossible. Conventional ways of doing production might have their own economical benefits but in the end, this will stand as a threat to us. So, to over-power, all the unnecessary issues both environmental and social manufacturers as well as consumers have to come together and start working against these challenges.

Sustainability in fashion industry

Kazancoglu, I., Kazancoglu, Y., Kahraman, A., Yarimoglu, E., & Soni, G. (2022). Investigating barriers to the circular supply chain in the textile industry from Stakeholders’ perspective. International Journal of Logistics Research and Applications, 25(4-5), 521-548.

Tumpa, T. J., Ali, S. M., Rahman, M. H., Paul, S. K., Chowdhury, P., & Khan, S. A. R. (2019). Barriers to green supply chain management: An emerging economy context. Journal of Cleaner Production, 236, 117617.

Update: Environmental sustainability in the Fashion Industry. (2023, February 23). Retrieved from Geneva Environment Network:

About the Author: Sweta Singh is currently pursuing Masters in Fashion Technology from NIFT, New Delhi, with an experience of 7 months in SGS India Pvt. Ltd. as Asst. Quality Coordinator. She has done her B. Tech in Apparel Production and Management from the Government College of Engineering and Textile Technology, Serampore.

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