Global Warming and the Fashion Industry

Published 23 Feb 2017

The temperature of the whole world is rising and it is rising fast enough to cause alarm. This phenomenon is now known as global warming and it has catastrophic consequences. It will change the environment, the climate, and everything else that is connected to the natural world. It is beginning to significantly affect human life. The changes in weather conditions are forcing others to rethink the way they live. This crisis is not only affecting industries such as food, tourism, real estate etc. It is also seen to create an impact in the fashion industry.

This paper will look into the effects of global warming in the way people will design and use clothes that will surely cause some major developments in the fashion world. But before all that it is important to fully understand why global warming is so serious that it is making policy makers and business leaders go back to the drawing boards.

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Rising Temperatures

In a report posted at the official website of CNN – posted last February, 02, 2007 – the world’s leading climate scientists have expressed in the gravest of terms the problem with global climate change. Their report can be summarized in the following phrase: global warming is very likely man-made.The more technical wording could not hide the urgency of their plea for immediate action as seen below:
The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice-mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing […] warming and rise in sea-level would continue for centuries because the process has already started… (see

The problem associated with global climate change is linked to aberrations in the earth’s temperature. And because of this James Griffin remarked that global climate change is the “mother of all problems”. Griffin (2003) expounds this by saying that there are two reasons for this:

An apocalyptic rhetoric is common when discussing this issue. For instance there is a common notion that when these harmful practices continue unabated it will trigger end of the world scenarios.

Climate change is the “mother of all problems” due to its complexity.

To those who are well-informed regarding the topic and those whose mindset forces them to imagine the worst case scenario there is nothing more as threatening as the issue of global climate change. Everybody is interconnected and one dramatic change on one side of the ocean can cause catastrophic after effects on the other side.

The scope is also staggering imagine changes occurring in continents and oceans. Imagine the damage done on the flora and fauna of the affected regions and how it would spill out into habitable communities where human lives are at stake. This is indeed a serious threat that must be taken cared of before doomsayers will be proven right.

Regarding complexity, thinkers like Griffin are correct in the assessment that an accurate assessment would be almost impossible and therefore it is difficult to ascertain the exact problem.It is this complex nature that stymies any serious attempt to solve it. It is also this complexity that makes it difficult for concerned groups to create any sustainable drive that can hopefully snowball into something significant and not just something that is a flash in the pan – starts with earnestness and then sputters in the long run.

If there are still those who are in doubt as to the mind-boggling scope and complexity of the global climate change phenomenon, then the following ought to convince them. “Anyone who has attempted to understand the carbon cycle, the climatological interactions of CO2 in the atmosphere, technological options to abate carbon emissions, or how a market based trading system of CO2 permits might work usually comes away frustrated” (Griffin, 2003). This will not help in fighting the negative effects of global warming and that all sectors must brace for the sweeping changes that are coming.

Addressing Global Climate Change

Using the regulatory approach – creation of laws and policies – in solving global climate change is almost impossible. One only has to remember the complexity of this issue as discussed a while ago. But there is another reason why it would be impossible to create a comprehensive ruling that would address this problem. Ray Oglesby, the Interim Director for Global Environment Program of Cornell University explained why:
Uncertainty in all long-range climate predictions is frequently cited as a reason for doing little or nothing in the way of adaptation and control […] Add to this the sheer complexity of climate prediction mechanisms and the many determinants of climate still poorly understood… (see

With regards to using the economic incentive approach, one only has to remember that this problem has a global scope and therefore involves all economies of the world. Now, how can one create an incentive program for everybody? In simpler terms leaders of US manufacturing companies will not implement expensive procedures in favour of the environment when its CEOs knew fully well that Chinese firms halfway around the world would never submit to such incentive program.

With regards to using the human rights approach it would be difficult for people from one locality feel for someone they do not know – people who are of different ethnic background or culture. All these together combined would spell significant changes in the economy of industrialized nations that are willing to make a contribution in arresting the irreversible effects of global warming.
There is one particular industry that for decades now has become a popular target of environmental activists who are unhappy with their polluting ways. But this time around it is not only people from Greenpeace – the organisation symbolising environmental concerns – that will make life harder for them. In the 21st century lawmakers are there to make sure that businesses are complying with strict environmental standards.

Fashion Industry

Based on the discussion above it is easy to understand why all the changes that are taking place will not be restricted to the laboratory, classroom, and even in the office of some policy maker. Soon the incremental changes will be felt and soon things will begin to change. In the fashion world clothes are made by the dictates of trends and utility. A manufacturer will make clothes based on what is popular – in other words what is the new craze. Still design does not deviate too much from its utilitarian aspect and majority of apparel are manufactured based on a certain use.
Winter clothes can always be altered to fit the new fad but it must be able to deliver a basic purpose and that is to protect the user from the bitter cold. It is the same way with summer clothes. Designers can have all the creative licence that they need to be able to satisfy the needs of fashion conscious clients but summer clothes must offer freedom, comfort fit for the hot weather.
If things will not change, if climate change will continue to deteriorate, then the earth will indeed become warmer. In places where its inhabitants experience long winters and short summers, the reverse may be just around the corner. If this will happen then more and more people will demand for clothes that will be comfortable, yet stylish in warm weather.


Based on the global impact of global warming it is fair to say that it will become a trendsetter in terms of the design of 21st century clothing. The following are just an example of what kind of trajectory will be seen in terms of developing future wear (Aldrich, 2007, p. 17):Athletics and Sportswear – the trend will be on the use of new fibres that will increase evaporation of sweat without rapidly cooling the body and fibres that have deodorising properties.

  • Protection – there will also be more interest on fibres that are light-weight and breathable yet offers protection from harmful ultraviolet rays.
  • Appearance – manufacturers will look for materials that will mimic the appearance of leather but will not increase the body’s temperature since it is already very warm outside.
  • Electronics – the use of nanotechnology will be more evident especially in the design of electronic gadgets imbedded in clothes to monitor the body; this will prove useful in preventing heat stroke etc.

With regards to design, Hines and Bruce, writing about contemporary issues in the fashion industry hinted that the colour blue will “…dominate the sense and sensibilities of fashion designers” and they explain this by saying “…global warming and our planet’s increased lack of water are increasingly occupying our thought processes…” (2007, p. 307).

The discussion above focuses more clothing that will combat the effects of rising temperatures. Sweating and heat strokes will be common hence the prediction given above. But aside from design patterns and utilitarian aspect of clothes some fashion designers are already focusing on the supply aspect of some raw materials.
Aldrich (2007, p. 18) pointed out that every major material being used now is under threat due to the laws that are currently in effect; these laws will surely limit production of certain fibres such as:

  • Vegetable fibres – Pesticide laws will affect supply
  • Animal fibres/skins – Pollution laws with regards to tanning and other processes will affect supply.
  • Man-made fibres – Laws regarding energy use will surely affect supply.

The processing of all the raw materials discussed above can either cause pollution or affect the energy needs of a power hungry generation. And as mentioned earlier, dependence on fossil fuel is the main culprit in the heating of the earth’s atmosphere. It is easy then to see the reason why governments all over the world are intent on finding solutions to limit amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. Thus, production will decrease and prices will increase which again leads to a new trend which probably would be the search for alternatives.

As the world is made more aware of the detrimental effects of neglecting the earth, more and more people are getting into the conservation and environmental protection bandwagon. Global warming is now used as a common ground for activists, students and concerned citizens alike to get together and unite for a common cause. In the process other environmental issues will be discussed and one of those concern pollution.
The fashion industry will again be affected by the increasing interest with regards to pollution especially concerning textile production. Aldrich clarified this by saying that, “The greatest pollution in textile production or leather processing is produced from scouring, bleaching, dyeing, printing, finishing and tanning. New laws are now in place, these are forcing businessmen to conform to a new world view.

Aside from policy makers and the government, pressure can also come from interest groups and other social activists that are fully convinced to the unsustainable practices of many firms. These groups would use whatever form of leverage that they have to make companies that contribute to the worsening global climate to change their ways.


Global warming is a serious problem that affects every member of the human race. There is no corner of the globe that will be spared. It is a phenomenon that promises destruction and yet at the same time an enigma that is not easy to solve. It will take more than rhetoric for scientists and social activists alike to make an impression and a revolution in the behaviour of the average person as well as the businesses that add considerable amounts of pollutants into the air.

Aside from the rapid changes that are difficult to stop, the whole idea about the earth’s rising temperature adds to the frustration of creating united global strategy that will impede degradation of the environment. Thus, many are now preparing for the inevitable and this includes those who are in the fashion world.The expected trends will be changes in the design, with a focus on the utilitarian aspect such as those that will combat excessive sweating and heat strokes. But there are those that are already thinking far ahead. They see that changing environment and the numerous laws that were passed to limit global warming will also limit the supply of popular fibres. This means that fashion designers will now be looking for alternatives as well new designs.


  • Aldrich, W. (2007). Fabric, Form, and Flat Pattern Cutting. UK: Blackwell Publishing.
  • (2007). Report Links Global Warming to Humans.
  • Coward, H. et al. (1993). Ethics and Climate Change. Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
  • Earley, L. (2004). Looking for Longleaf: The Rise and Fall of an American Forest. Carolina: North Carolina Press.
  • Griffin, J. (2003). Global Climate Change. MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Hines, T. & Bruce, M. (2007). Fashion Marketing: Contemporary Issues. UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  • Mangun, W. & Henning, D. (1999) Managing the Environmental Crisis. Duke University Press.
  • Mitsch, W. & Jorgensen, S. (2004). Ecological Engineering and Ecosystem Restoration. New Jersey: Wiley and Sons, Inc.
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