Sustainable Fabrics making their way in Indian market

by Team Conscious Carma

India is amongst the world’s largest producers and exporters of textiles. The domestic market for textiles in India was valued at $100 billion in 2019-20 with rising exports valued at ~ $50 billion.

McKinsey’s State of Fashion report marks the ascent of India into the global fashion industry due to Asia’s economic expansion. India will occupy the centre stage in the fashion industry, with a rapidly growing middle class and powerful manufacturing sector. The Indian apparel market is estimated to cross $59 billion in 2022, making it the sixth largest in the world, according McKinsey’s Fashion Scope. Moreover, India is set to become one of the most attractive consumer markets outside the Western world moving on from being an important sourcing hub.

The flip side,  the global textile industry has grown to be one of the most natural resource guzzling and polluting sector, harming both, the environment and the people.  Over production and over consumerism has made textiles, the second largest contributor of waste in the world. It has been estimated that there are 20 new garments manufactured per person each year and we are buying 60% more than we were in 2000

In 2016, a McKinsey report on “Style that’s sustainable: A new fast- fashion formula” claimed that fashion was witnessing a major changing in buying trends, with production doubling from 2000 to 2014, and the purchase index of an average consumer increasing by 60 percent.

This has led to a “fast fashion cycle” wherein consumers are purchasing clothes for summer, autumn, spring and winter, which has forced the fashion industry towards unsustainable fashion. Meaning, the industry is producing more synthetic fibres, polyester, nylon waste water and plastic waste.

Textile industry is a highly water intensive industry and chemical intensive too. Millions of gallons of Water, the scarce natural resource is used everyday and the same is polluted by the chemicals used for producing, bleaching, dyeing and cleaning the textiles, and if not treated before releasing it, the waste water pollutes the rivers and harm the health of water bodies and humans. Non-organic cotton is responsible for the consumption of 16 percent of the world’s total production of insecticides and around 7 percent of it is pesticides. Almost 2000 different varieties of chemicals are used in this industry. Mere chemical processing in this industry constitutes 70 percent of the overall pollution. Also the synthetic textiles release microplastics in the environment. Non-organic cotton is responsible for the consumption of 16 percent of the world’s total production of insecticides and around 7 percent of it is pesticides

The resources, especially water and oil, used by the global textile industry is expected to double by 2030. The global apparel production may reach 102 million tons by 2030 if the economy and the world population increase as expected.  Synthetic fibers comprise of almost 65 percent of the total world production for fibers. They consume a lot of oil which is a non renewable resource. Natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, etc. also make use of resources that needs to be conserved.

Textile waste is another huge issue.  Studies indicate that only 48 percent of the textile waste is recycled and converted into consumables and is mostly exported to third world countries. The rest goes to landfills.

It is imperative for the textile industry to move towards sustainability, as well as effectively recycle.  While consumers should consume less and consume sustainable and also consider options like upcycling and thrifting, etc.

Some startling facts of waste generated by textiles globally

According to the National Climate Change Journal (2018), textile production is one of the most polluting industries and produced 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the emissions of international flights and maritime shipping put together.

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions.

According to evaluations of the World Bank, about 17 to 20 percent of all present water pollution is solely induced by coloring and finishing patterns. Nearly 72 unique toxic synthetics are stated to be available in water only for coloring patterns.

One truck capacity of textiles is landfilled or burnt every second somewhere in the world, according to the Isle of Wight-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The fashion industry’s annual production is 400 billion square metre of textiles leading to cutting room floor waste of 60 billion square metre.

According to the UNFCCC, carbon emissions from the apparel industry is set to cross 60 percent by 2030. In Asian countries like India and China, emerging fashion trends have increased the carbon foot print per garment, due to the use of coal fuelled plants.

Indian textiles moving the sustainable way

The global climate crisis and the pandemic has been a resetting button for the manufacturers as well as consumers across the globe. In India too, there’s increased efforts by the government as well as manufacturers to shift to sustainable textile and move to a circular economy.

Prominent players in India are undertaking major strides in introducing sustainability in the textile manufacturing value chain, including the use of newer, more eco-friendly technologies, materials and production methods.

The industry recognizing cotton as a vital ally, is opting for organic cotton.  Organic cotton farming uses 62% less energy and 88% less water than conventional cotton. Also, switching to natural colours for dyeing clothes. The industry is also remodelling its operations from linear to circular, from sourcing raw materials to production, supply chain and waste recycling.

Recycled fabrics like Ecovera which are produced from recycled plastic bottles using biofuels and energy efficient processes, is being manufactured by India’s leading textile manufacturer and fashion retailer, Raymond Group in collaboration with India’s leading conglomerate, Reliance Industries.

Another Indian conglomerate, Aditya Birla Group, has launched Liva-branded Viscose Staple Fiber. The man-made, biodegradable fiber is derived from  wood pulp, a renewable source.

Also, the Country’s leading fashion designers and fashion brands are also  using sustainable fabrics in their collections. Designers like Anita Dongre, Ritu Kumar are leading the sustainable fashion in India. And a slew of Indian startups can be seen entering the sustainable textile and fashion market which is a very positive sign.

Coupled with this is the consumer shift towards sustainable clothing and slow fashion, Sustainable fabrics market size in India is anticipated to surpass of CAGR 11.4% by 2023, as reported in the latest study by market research future

Example of Sustainable Fabrics

Sustainable Natural and Vegan Fabrics

  • Organic Cotton
  • Recycled Cotton
  • Organic Hemp
  • Organic Linen
  • Organic Bamboo Linen
  • Cork

Examples of Sustainable Semi-Synthetic Fabrics

  • Lyocell
  • Modal
  • Bamboo Lyocell
  • EcoVero
  • Pinatex
  • Cupro

Synthetic Fabrics

  • Recycled Polyester

Animal Derived Natural Fabrics (sustainable depending on source)

  • Sheep Wool
  • Merino Wool
  • Alpaca Wool
  • Cashmere
  • Camel
  • Yak Wool
  • Ahimsa Silk


  • Acrylic
  • Elastane (a.k.a. Spandex or Lycra)
  • Nylon
  • Polyamide
  • Polyester
  • Polyurethane
  • Sequins

All of these are made using oil, processed into a plastic thread, and then woven into wearable fabric. When  washed, they shed microplastics. And when they’re thrown away, they take hundreds of years to degrade.

150 billion clothes: The number of clothes produced annually in the world; enough to provide 20 new clothes to each person in the world every year

A.Water Consumption

20,000 litres: The amount of water consumed to produce one kilogram of cotton production; equivalent to the amount a person drinks in 15 years

7,000 litres: The amount of water consumed to produce 1 pair of jeans only; equivalent to the amount a person drinks in 5-6 years

2,700 litres: The amount of water consumed to produce 1 t-shirt; equivalent to the amount a person drinks in 2.5 years

Why this is important?

Our access to clean water only accounts for 1% of the global water supply. By 2025, over 2.8 billion people in almost 48 countries are likely to face water problems including scarcity. This would get even worse with numbers reaching 7 billion by 2050.

2 billion jeans: are produced every year in the world

B. Raw materials

70 million barrels: The amount of crude oil consumed every year to produce the most commonly used fiber in textiles — polyester

70 million trees: The number of trees logged every year to produce fabrics like rayon, viscose, lyocell, and modal

Why this is important?

Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four. We can save oxygen for around 35 million families.

90% of cotton: is genetically modified which uses huge amount of water and chemicals

18% of pesticide: in the world is used for the cotton production while 25% of total insecticides in the world is used for the same

25% of chemicals: produced in the world are consumed by the textiles industry

C. Energy Consumption – by fiber type

30% of clothes: The percentage of clothes that are never sold

$210 billion dollars: is the value of inventory distortion in the global apparels and fashion industry. This is the gap between consumer’s wants and what retailers provide in their store.

One-in-six people: in the world work in the fashion and textiles industry

80% of garment workers: are women

1%: The percentage of retail price of one clothing item is what the living wage of garment workers constitute of

Number 1: is the rank of Germany in providing the highest hourly compensations in the apparel manufacturing industry when compared to other international apparel manufacturing countries

Lowest rank: Philippines ranks the lowest in providing the hourly compensations among the countries studied

90% of labours: in Bangladesh cannot afford the basic necessity of life – food for themselves and/or their families


80 billion: clothing pieces are consumed every year in the world; 400% more as compared to 20 years ago

$460 billion: The value of clothes being discarded every year which consumers could continue to wear

50% of clothes: The percentage of clothes are discarded within one year of buying

> 3 years: The lifetime of a clothing item in the developed countries is less than 3 years

36%: The worldwide utilization of clothes (before discarding it completely to waste) has been reduced by 36% as compared to 15 years ago

Why this is important?

The lifetime of a clothing item is reducing and the purchase of regular new clothing pieces is rising, thereby increasing the total consumption of fashion and garments.

250% increase: in google searches (made by the consumers) for sustainable fashion between 2017-1


A. Production

1.2 billion tons: The amount of total greenhouse gases emitted globally due to textile production; produced more than than all the international flights and maritime combined

8 percent: of global greenhouse emissions come from the apparel and footwear industry

262 percent: more CO2 is emitted to manufacture one polyester t-shirt as compared to one cotton t-shirt

Why this is important?

Substituting polyester offers: 60% reduction in energy consumption, around 40% less emissions, and 90% less toxic substances

B. Consumption

24 percent: of emissions can be reduced if we double the useful life of clothing from one year to two years

400 percent more carbon emissions: is produced per item per year when we wear fast fashion garments, which are only worn 5 times and kept for 35 days, as compared to clothing items worn at least 50 times and kept for one full year.

Why this is important?

Increasing greenhouse gas emissions cause earth’s atmosphere to trap excessive heat which can cause global warming


20% of waste: in the world is generated by the textiles industry

92 million tons of textile waste: is generated by the global fashion industry; around 12.3 kg per capita across the globe

85% of plastics: in the ocean is due to microfibers that come from synthetic textiles

15% of fabric: is wasted in the cutting room which could’ve been used for clothing production

70 pounds: of clothing and shoes are being discarded by one person annually instead of recycling

70% of people: in the world consume second hand clothes

$550 on unworn clothing: According to a survey of 2137 women (aged 18 and above), around $550 worth of clothing in their closet has never been worn by them.

20% of clothing: is not even worn once by the consumers in the world


12.8 million tons of clothing: ends up on landfills every year

Only 10% of the clothes: that are donated to thrift stores or charity organizations are actually sold, while the rest goes to landfill.

95% of textile waste: that ends up on landfills every year could actually be recycled

200 years: The number of years for polyester to break down

20,000 litres of water: can be saved if we start using recycled cottn

Country stats

3rd largest water wasting industry: Textiles is the third largest water wasting industry in China, discharging more than 2.5 billion tons of wastewater each year

2.5 billion tons: of wastewater is generate by Chinese textile industry every year 253 tons of textile waste

ends up in landfills in Hong Kong every day

91 percent: The percentage of Australian fashion brands who do not pay their workers a living wage. Second largest

Australia is the second largest consumer of textiles in the world, after the US

27 kilograms: is the average unit of new clothing and textiles are bought by Australians every year 

23 kilograms: is the average unit of clothing that Australians discard every year 

40% of apparels: that are sold in the United States are imported from China; the US is also the largest apparels importer in the world

1 billion pounds of used clothing: is exported from the United States, making it the largest exporter of second hand clothing

10.5 million tons of textile: in the United States are sent to landfill each year

70 pounds of clothing: is discarded by an American every year

70 clothing items: are bought on an average per consumer in the United States every year

$46.7 billion: is the value of unworn clothes by the consumers in the United Kingdom

$66 billion: is the total consumption of clothes per household in the United Kingdom every year

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