What does your fashion consumption got to do with the global water crises?

Are you wondering what your personal wardrobe at home has got to do with growing water challenges in countries that have a strong textile industry? It’s quite simple actually - especially if your wardrobe consists of various cotton items. As cotton is a very thirsty plant, it demands for extraordinarily high irrigation during its cultivation. These amounts of water are then bond to textiles - impacting especially regions that are suffering from water stress or water scarcity. So let’s make it concrete. How much water is hanging in your own wardrobe? Find out now.

small Warddrobe with Water

water footprint calculator

your Wardrobe contains …
Liter Water
The magic Calculation
  • jeans 0 Jeans á 8000 Liter 0 L
  • sweater 0 Sweater á 4500 Liter 0 L
  • dress 0 Dress á 3000 Liter 0 L
  • tshirt 0 T-shirt á 2500 Liter 0 L
  • shirt 0 Shirt/Blouse á 1500 Liter 0 L
  • underwear 0 Underwear á 400 Liter 0 L
  • socks 0 Socks á 300 Liter 0 L

Total 0 L

What could be done with this water instead?

An average German household consumes 120 litres per capita and day, and with 1,000 litres or 1 m³ of water, we could shower 20 times, wash our hands 400 times or drink 4,000 glasses of water – each containing 250 ml. Sticking to glasses of water, one cotton sweater with an average footprint of 4,500 litres of water would fill up even more of them – 18,000 to be precise.

Where do the numbers come from?

For this magic calculator we assume a global average water footprint of cotton fibres, with approximately 10,000 litres per kg. As the different pieces of clothing have different weights (e.g. a T-Shirt accounts with 250 grams), we get the individual amounts of water footprint per item. That’s how you get an impression of the water that is hanging in your (cotton) wardrobe. However, an average does not consider the specific conditions that are prevailing in different countries and regions where your fashion is actually produced. So let us have a look at the kind of influences we have on our natural water cycle.

jeans Jeans
800g Cotton 8000l Water
sweater Sweater
450g Cotton 4500l Water
dress Dress
300g Cotton 3000l Water
tshirt T-shirt
250g Cotton 2500l Water
shirt Shirt/Blouse
150g Cotton 1500l Water
underwear Underwear
40g Cotton 400l Water
socks Socks
30g Cotton 300l Water

Even though we speak of the blue planet…

  • #1 only 2.5% of our blue resources are actually fresh water more
  • #2 Water is not only needed for our own drinking purposes but moreover for the production of goods and services (industrial and agricultural consumption) more
  • #3 Cotton is used to produce 40% of the world’s textile products while being one of the most water- and pesticide-intensive crops more
  • #4 Influences on natural processes such as extensive water consumption for the production of textiles harm the sensitive water equilibrium more
  • #5 Especially in water scarce regions (physically or economically scarce) negative effects on natural resources are tremendous more
  • #6 So how can consumers influence the development in water scarce regions, directly and indirectly, with their fashion habits? more

#1 Natural Water Cycle

Natural waters can come in various shapes: Oceans, seas, rivers, lakes and glaciers, underground, atmospheric and biologically combined waters. Yet, they have one thing in common: they are all interrelated and move from one phase to another as the hydrologic or water cycle progresses. [1] This means, waters are in constant, usually cyclic motion and only 2.5% are actually fresh water.

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#2 Water Footprint

Everything we use, wear, buy, sell and eat demands for water: The coffee we drink, the sandwich we eat, the chair we sit on and the nice tight pair of jeans we wear while sitting on that chair. In general, the water footprint measures the amount of water that is needed for each product – starting from the full production cycle to the end-user. This virtual water is in most cases hidden like an iceberg and difficult to see directly.

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your Clothes

#3 Water & Cotton

Cotton is used to produce 40% of the world’s textile products while being one of the most water- and pesticide-intensive crops. The production of a kilogram of cotton drinks between 7.000 and 29.000 litres before hanging in your closet as a simple T-Shirt.[1]

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#4 Out of balance…

Freshwater is increasingly becoming a global resource that is driven by international trade. The three main consumers - agriculture, industry and private households - wrench on the natural water cycles balance.

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#5 Water Scarcity

Due to a natural water scarcity or a scarcity that is resulting from mismanagement, more and more regions are challenged to manage their (remaining) water resources efficiently and in a sustainable way.

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#6 Consumer Decisions

Consumers need to realise the power that they have not only in their role as direct water users in their homes, but also in their role as indirect water users – for every product they consume – as more water is saved in water scarce regions if you refrain from buying fast fashion than if you repair your dripping tap.

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