1. Abstract

In an earlier article, entitled "Sustainable Fashion" we approached the subject of the need for Textiles and Clothing to meet future demands for "Reduced Environmental Impact".

The article concluded by asking readers if there was a need to take a wider look at the Environmental Impact on the Global scale.

Positive responses have led to this current article in which we look at "Ethical Clothing" in addition to "Sustainable fashion". We review the potential impact of the "Green Lobby" against the world market for textiles and clothing. As background, and to put the green lobby into perspective, we look at the state of the market from the year 2000 up to the present; and then offer our views on possible future scenarios.

2. Full Article

2.1 A Changing World

Is the World of textiles and Clothing Changing?


2.14 Sustainable Fashion and Environmental Impact

We are now in the age of "Sustainable Fashion" and "Environmental Impact" assumes ever increasing importance.

Environmental impact in the textile industry arises in particular from:

  • the use of Energy
  • the use of Toxic Chemicals
  • the release of chemicals in waste water
  • the production of solid waste.


  • burning fossil fuels to create electricity to heat water and air for use in processing textile fibres ; laundering garments and textiles; providing fuel for agricultural machinery to harvest cotton.

  • production of primary materials (nb : synthetic fibres)

  • manufacturing yarn from natural fibres.

Toxic Chemicals

  • which may harm human health

  • which are used widely in growing cotton

  • which are used widely in fibre processing (chemical preparation; dyeing and printing).


Organic Clothing: Selling in UK from 99 - 150



Release of Chemicals in Waste Water

  • particularly in chemical preparation, dyeing, printing, finishing, and laundering.

  • and which may harm aquatic life.

Production of Solid Waste arising from

  • manufacturing yarn from Cotton (natural fibres).

  • garment confection.

  • disposal of garments and textiles at the end of their life ; this waste exacerbated by the demands of "High Fashion" and "Fast Fashion".

2.15. Pressure Groups

Textile companies face three sources of pressure.

  • Shareholder expectations.
  • Customer demands and loyalty.
  • "Ethical" clothing

2.16. Ethical Clothing

We may subdivide "Ethical Pressure" into two groupings.

  • Occupational Health.

  • and Socio economic considerations.

2.17 Occupational Health

  • Hazardous chemicals particularly in cotton production and processing.

  • Dustiness

    • Fibre dustespecially from processing cotton giving rise to the respiratory disease byssinosis.
    • Dusty dyestuffsgiving rise to, or making worse, respiratory diseases such as asthma.

  • Noise

    • Yarn Manufacturing, knitting & weaving.

  • Monotonous repetitive procedures.

    • Particularly in garment confection leading to injuries amongst sewing machinists.


2.18 Social Implications for the Textile and Clothing Industry

  • The main concerns here are about:
    • the quality of job creation
    • social conditions of employment
    • human rights

Global challenges concerning Ethical Clothing include:

  • Exploitation of Children

    • Elimination of child labour is the goal of the "International Labour Organisation" (ILO).

    • But there are difficulties in monitoring subcontractors, indirect labour and home workers.

    • Elimination remains a "Challenge".

  • Unskilled Migrants

    • Such workers are vulnerable to various abuses

    • and may not be aware of their rights, or how to claim for them.

    • Some European retailers are working to impose ethical conditions on their suppliers.

    • Success in imposing ethical conditions, however, depends on rigorous monitoring (costly?).

    • Particular problem currently is that many subcontractors deny worker's rights to form an association or trade union to assert their rights to :

-                      appropriate working conditions

-                      appropriate pay

-                      training and promotion.

  • Levels of Pay

    • Most countries supplying the UK's textiles and clothing. Have a legally defined minimum wage.

    • But "social campaigners" assert that there is a difference between a "minimum legal wage" and a "minimum living wage".

    • They assert that it may not be possible to escape from a poverty cycle with only a "minimum legal wage".

  • Insecure Employment

    • The dangers here are the use of repeated temporary contracts.

    • And / or the absence of any employment contracts.

    • Delayed payment.

    • No employment benefits.

  • Sexual Harassment

    • Campaigners for women's rights report cases in which women are "threatened" by superiors and unable to complain without risk of unemployment.


2.19. The Consumer

2.19.1 Where the Consumers are.

Fig 7 shows the consumption of textiles per head of population in 2004. But, as we all know, the world is ever changing. The disposable income of people in many developing economies is increasing.

Fig 7. Consumption of Textiles per Capita

2.19.2 Consumer Attitudes (Ref 2)

We reproduce here, the results of a study carried out at Leeds University (UK) in 2004. The study was supported by Woolmark, Walmart and Marks & Spencer PLC.

Fig 8. Important Purchasing Issues for USA Consumers

Note: Enviro Friendly refers to environmental considerations in manufacture.

Fig 8 shows the important purchasing issues identified by US consumers and the relative importance of those issues.

Fig 9 Part 1, shows the European response to those issues identified in the USA, and Fig 9 Part 11 shows the additional issues considered important in Europe. Some interesting observations may be made such as the higher importance placed in Europe on Quality. Both Americans and Europeans are conscious of environmental considerations in manufacture, processing and production. Europeans show greater concern in the nature of chemicals which are left on the textile after processing which may come into contact with the skin.


Fig 9. Important Purchasing Issues for European Consumers (Part 1)

Fig 10. Important Purchasing Issues for European Consumers (Part 11)

The main conclusions on consumer attitude, as applied in the year 2004, can be summarised in Fig 10.

What is interesting is that the source does not appear to matter to the consumer. And that Europeans show greater concern in the nature of chemicals which are left on the textile after processing which may come into contact with the skin.

So let us now focus our attention upon European attitudes and with particular reference to "Sustainable Fashion".


"In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today -- more serious even than the threat of terrorism."

With this warning to an international science meeting in February 2004, David A. King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government, brought the issue of global warming into sharp focus.

Is the World of textiles and Clothing dividing?

2.2 Modern Driving Forces

To what extent could the driving forces become:

  • Sustainable Fashion?

  • Ethical Clothing?

"Is China is the Sleeping Giant of Global Warming? "

2.3 Sustainable Technology

This has been defined as Technology which transforms materials without emission of greenhouse gases, the use of non-renewable materials or generation of waste.

2.4. Ethical Clothing

Covers conditions of employment (within the Textile and Clothing Industry production and supply chain) in terms of:

  • Socio Economic considerations
  • Occupational Health


2.5. Basis of Study

A logical series of questions to ask might be:

  • What did the market look like in 2000?
  • What does it look like now?
  • Who are the major players? And Why?
  • Which are the dominant substrates?
  • What have been the major trade changes over the last 7 years?
  • What has been the impact of these changes?
  • What significant changes can we foresee for the near future?
  • How are these changes likely to affect the trade balance between the major players?

2.6. Outline of Study

  • The Global Textile Village as it was in 2000.Consumer data.

  • The World of Textiles and Clothing as it is now.

  • The flow of materials associated with textiles and clothing through the UK (as an example of Europe).

  • A "Scenario Analysis" of possible structural changes to the industry to make a more "Sustainable" and "Ethical" future.

2.7. The "Global Textile Village": 2000


The Textile and Clothing Industry is a major part of World Trade.

  • At the beginning of the millennium, the world's consumers spent about US $ 1 trillion on clothes.

  • These sales comprised:

    • 33% in Western Europe
    • 33% in USA
    • 25% in Asia.

  • 7% of Total World Exports are in Textiles and Clothing.

  • Significant parts of the sector are dominated by developing economies (particularly in Asia, and above all by China).

  • Now, 25% of the World production of Textiles & Clothing takes place in China.

  • Developing economies now account for :

    • 50% of the world's textile exports
    • 75% of the world's clothing exports

  • Although, Western Europe is still an important exporter, especially Germany and Italy (in clothing).

  • Output from the sector is growing in volume, but prices are falling.

2.8. The "Global Textile Village": Employment: 2007

  • According to UNIDO statistics (2006) over 26.5 million people now work in textiles and clothing.

  • These figures include only people involved in manufacture (they exclude the retail and supporting sectors).

  • The split between Textiles: Clothing is roughly 50:50 worldwide. But there are significant ration differentials from country to country. And generally speaking, those countries with high labour costs will have the greater proportion in Textiles.

  • Although precise estimates are difficult to quantify and hampered by the number of small companies and subcontractors in operation.

  • Estimates by the ILO put the employment within this industry in China as high as 19 million.

  • About 70% of the workers in the Clothing industry are women. In the Garment industry women typically sew finish and pack clothes.

  • Men tend to occupy such roles as supervisors, machine operators and technicians.

  • Employment opportunities tend to be concentrated at the bottom of the supply chain, within the lower echelons of education and qualification, in countries with limited alternative job opportunities. These factors have contributed to maintaining low wages and thus overall low labour costs.


Fig 1. Employment in Textiles and Clothing by Country

Fig 2. Relative (Internal) Importance of the Textile and Clothing Industry


Labour Costs in Textiles and Clothing

Fig 3. South America relative to USA = 100

Fig 4. Europe relative to USA = 100

Fig 5. Developing Far East relative to USA = 100


Fig 6. Turkey and International Competition

2.9 Competitive Price Levels

Labour cost, of course, is only one element of cost. If we take all elements of cost, and the cost at which a given market can take its product to the customer, into account it is possible to discern four distinct cost groups; (Table 1).

Table 1. Four Distinct Cost Groups


Cost Band (US $)

Developed Nations




4.51 - 23.10


Former Eastern Europe (centrally planned economies)


2.05 - 5.20


North Africa


Central America

0.91 - 1.89

Developing Asia



0.20 - 0.60

The significance of these groupings is that nations within each group are likely to compete with each other on cost.

2.10. Domination by Asian Countries

  • Employment (in the Textiles and Clothing Industry), within the last decade, has been increasingly concentrated in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Romania, Cambodia and Turkey.

  • In the same time period, employment has fallen in USA, Europe and the Philippines.

Employment in the Textile and Clothing industry for the EU25 countries fell by 1 million (to 2.7 million) between 1995 2005. It is expected to fall by another 1 million by 2012.

  • There are several smaller developing economies :

    • which are small exporters (on the global scale)
    • but for which textile and clothing exports are their dominant form of foreign earnings (Bangladesh, Haiti, Cambodia).

  • China has dominated the "Conventional Sector" on the back of :

    • low labour costs (although higher than India)
    • efficient logistics
    • experienced and skilled labour force
    • developed power infrastructure (fewer power outages)
    • more capital investment in equipment.

  • India is the second largest exporter of textiles. But various analysts have pointed to the need to modernise textile machinery in order to compete with China.

  • The ICMF (Indian Cotton Mills Federation) have highlighted the need to improve productivity, all across the supply chain, but particularly in the wet processing sector (dyeing & finishing).

2.11. Textiles and Clothing in Developed Economies

  • Turkey remains the most buoyant textile wet processing industry. Although it is facing severe rising costs. Its rise in prominence in Europe is a fascinating story, and full details of its development can be provided to customers joining Dyehouse Solutions International services.

  • Italy is the most successful European exporter of textile and clothing. This success is due to a reorganisation of its processing sector and niche marketing.

  • There are still around 6 million people employed in the European and Mediterranean area.

  • Bulgaria is of interest for a number of reasons. In Bulgaria, which has a deep history in textiles and clothing (spanning two centuries), the textile and clothing industry has a competitive advantage over neighbouring European countries through lower labour costs and effluent disposal regulations.

However, both advantages will be seriously eroded if (and when) Bulgaria joins the EU. An imposition of EU rules on employment and trade will increase costs, as it did in both Hungary and Poland.

Bulgaria may also see an increase in imports of cheaper Chinese clothing; post the phasing out of quotas, as happened in Romania.


2.12. The "Conventional" Sector and International Trade Agreements

  • Historically, the size of the sector and the dependence of clothing production on cheap labour, has led to China's prominence and domination.

  • However, the sector has also been the subject of intense political interest. It has been significantly shaped by "International Trading Agreements".

From 1974 2005, the skills and infrastructure of Chinese manufacturing developed alongside the advantages of low costs of labour and effluent disposal. During this period, developed economies responded with a series of "quotas and tariffs" imposed (especially on Chinese imports) to protect their own manufacturing interests.

Jan 1st 2005

  • These quotas were officially ended on 01.01.05. In the period before the final phasing out (from 19802000) average tariffs fell from 10% to 5% in developed economies and 25% to 13% in the developing countries. But trading rules remain complicated and change rapidly.

  • Regional trade blocs and preferential trade agreements maintain various distortions to a completely "Free Trade". But the ending of the main set of quotas has certainly led to a rapid rise in Chinese exportsand a resulting fall in high street prices (certainly in Europe).

  • China's joining the WTO continues to afford some protection to those threatened by Chinese growth until 2008.

2.13 Key Issues for Progress of a Developing Textile Economy

  • Integration in the "Conventional Sector".

  • "Niche Production".

  • The "Conventional Sector" and Consumer Prices.

  • "Marginalised" Strategies. The Conventional Sector and Second Hand Clothing.

  • The Conventional Sector by Fibre Type.

  • Organic Textiles (e.g. Organic Cotton).