Erroneous Sizing Of Clothing Drives Environmental Destruction

The environmental impact of fast fashion is bigger than you may think.


The environmental costs of producing cheap garments en masse in third world countries are bigger than one might think at first glance. A large part of clothes that are being returned go straight into landfills where it takes them more than 200 years to decompose and methane, a potent greenhouse gas is being emitted. 

It is a common occurrence: You walk into three different stores and try on three different pairs of pants in the same size. The result: Not all of them fit. 

Clothing sizes have become standardized as a way to reduce costs. Yet, despite advanced technology the approach is flawed. It is impossible to create a standard size because body shapes differ. 

Because of sizing that strongly fluctuates, many items are being sent back. With a rate of 56 per cent clothing and shoes are the most returned products by category. 

Sending back orders for free is common practice. Pretty much every major fashion retailer offers returns free of charge to reel in customers and boost sales. Within the past five years return rates for items purchased online have increased by 95 per cent

There is no question that the ease with which we can return products influences our buying behavior. A 2018 Narvar study has found that more than two-thirds of shoppers (69%) are put off by having to pay for return shipping.

However, these free returns are by no means free. They result in huge costs for our planet. Every package has to be shipped by trains, planes or trucks to end up back at the vendor. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

A large part of the items are not actually put back into stock to be sold. Items that are being restocked need to be checked for damage, steamed and dry cleaned. Instead of going through this costly process, garments are donated or incinerated instead to save costs. 

In the US alone returns account for 5 billion pounds of landfill waste 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually. 

This issue has sparked an outcry on social media platforms, with individuals holding companies accountable for their erroneous sizing, as the current practice is both wasteful and has a negative impact on the perception of our bodies. 


Next Up, Ellen Hodakova Larsson: The Designer Deconstructing Fashion, One Garment At The Time