CSU researcher investigates environmental impacts of the fashion industry

Sonali Diddi Headshot
Sonali Diddi

The fashion industry is resource intensive, and our growing global demand for clothing has poised the industry to have continued negative environmental impacts. Sonali Diddi, an assistant professor in the Colorado State University Department of Design and Merchandising, has recently been awarded a USDA NIFA Higher Education Challenge Grant and a CSU School of Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES) Global Challenges Research Team Grant to investigate and address these and other problems surrounding the industry.


Both production and consumption of clothing carry large energy demands, and the global reliance on fossil fuels for energy production results in the fashion industry producing staggering levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

“There is an increasing realization that textile and apparel production systems need an overhaul,” said Diddi. In recent years, the fashion industry has begun incorporating new practices in attempts to reduce their impact on the social, environmental, and economic well-being of our planet.

While these alternative production systems claim to be sustainable, there is very little empirical research related to the sustainability claims that these new business models promote. In order to find out more, Diddi will lead an interdisciplinary research team funded by CSU’s SoGES which aims to develop a tool to quantify the carbon footprint of at least two different business models and compare it to the traditional take-make-dispose business model.

The SoGES grant will include an interdisciplinary research team from four different departments across four different colleges including Diddi; Zac Rogers, an assistant professor of operations and supply chain management in the College of Business; Richard Conant, a professor of ecosystem science and sustainability in the Warner College of Natural Resources; Lumina Albert, an associate professor of operations and supply chain management in the College of Business; and Anders Fremstad, an assistant professor of economics in the College of Liberal Arts.

Circular economies

woman sews fabric on machineHaving recognized the fashion industry’s impact on climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change worked in collaboration with stakeholders across the global fashion supply chain, and formed the Fashion Industry Charter on Climate Change in September 2018. At that meeting, the industry envisioned achieving climate neutrality by 2050, and major brands committed to 30% reduction in emissions using circular economy principles.

A circular economy focuses on industry that is restorative and regenerative. As part of this circular economy, the industry shifts toward renewable energy, eliminates toxic chemicals, and aims to eliminate waste products. This can all be achieved with better designs for materials, products, and systems.

Diddi is funded by the USDA to lead a research team including Yan Vivian Li, an associate professor in CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising; and Melody LeHew and Kim Hiller Connell, professors from Kansas State University. They will work to create a database which analyzes practices from brands currently striving to use circular economy principles.

“This will help us to better understand the need to incorporate circular economy principles in curriculum and the industry’s need for young professionals who can apply circular economy principles,” explained Diddi.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.