A Royal Society conference on nanotechnology and the environment, held in London, was told that each year 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away in Britain with 80% being landfilled.
But a leading researcher said the days of in-built obsolescence of passing fashions may be over.
New materials and approaches working at the nano level will enable clothes to be re-used, enjoy longer working lives, recycled, even mend themselves or simply biodegrade harmlessly, said Professor Sandy Black, reader in fashion and textiles design and technology at the London College of Fashion.
Because nanofibres are much smaller than traditional fibres, less will be needed to produce the same effect as traditional fibres, with more accurate production reducing waste.
Prof Black believes that nanotechnology may allow consumers to recycle their own clothes, by giving them equipment able to shift the colour of nanofibres used in their clothes, or maybe allow a manufacturer to offer the same service.
This is because nanotechnology is likely to offer the opportunity for a blouse, for example, to be able to be switched from green to blue either by the manufacturer or the customer.
At the moment manufacturers in fashion have to guess at how many items in a colour or size they need to order, said Prof Black.