The globe-spanning fashion industry employs tens of millions of people worldwide and generated nearly half a trillion dollars of revenue in the U.S. during 2012, according to Fashion United. The global nature of the industry and sheer scale of revenue creates a number of ethical issues, ranging from working conditions and environmental impact to body image and the use of fur.

Working Conditions

To keep costs down, clothing businesses set up factories overseas where safety rules remain looser and wages lower than in the United States. The conditions in these factories can lead to tragic consequences, such as a building collapse that killed 400 garment workers in Bangladesh.

Eating Disorders and Warped Body Image

The ultra-thin body type preferred for fashion models takes fire for encouraging eating disorders and warping body image. Although no conclusive study connects thin model images and eating disorders, the ultra-thin model body appears to contribute to warped body image, a contributing factor in eating disorders.

Environmental Impact

Garment manufacturing levies a serious environmental toll. Cotton, a common material in garments, requires heavy pesticide use. The production of synthetic polyester fabric yields a number of hazardous byproducts, including volatile organic compounds, hydrogen chloride and toxic solvents.

Cultural Appropriation

In a quest for inspiration, designers sometimes co-opt elements of traditional garb, such as Ankara prints or Navajo textile designs. In cases of appropriation for profit, the appropriation functions as a kind of theft and risks alienating the members of the culture.

Consumerism and Waste

The annual rollout of new clothing lines and “must have” items encourages a rampant consumerism that encourages people to buy clothes they do not need. Low-priced clothing also encourages people to treat functional clothes as disposable, creating unnecessary waste.


The use of fur in fashion, a practice out favor since the 1980s, picked up speed again post-2000. Humans do not eat fox and mink, the two most popular furs for fashion. This means that the animals are raised or hunted and killed solely to harvest their fur. Many consider this practice inhumane.


Counterfeiting runs rampant in fashion, particularly with high-priced designer brands. This places consumers in the position of paying premium prices for substandard products, while allowing dishonest vendors to profit.

Exploiting the Poverty-Stricken

Some fashion photography has appeared to exploit the poor by featuring the poverty-stricken in ads for high-priced, high-fashion items, according to "The New York Times." Featuring the poor with items or accessories beyond their means for the purpose of selling those items to the affluent has raised questions about ethical practice.

Social Inequality

Fashion provides a clear visual cue to many people’s socioeconomic status, both among youth and adults. A failure to adopt the latest fashions and expensive brands can serve a signal to ostracize people for not belonging to the appropriate social class.

Child Labor

Child labor remains an issue for the fashion industry on two fronts. Equal Times reported that models, often under the age of 18, endure long working hours and wage theft, and receive limited legal protections that other children in the workforce take for granted. The fashion industry and major retailers continue to come under fire for the use of child labor in sewing garments overseas, according to Harvard Law School, a practice widely considered unethical and illegal in the U.S.