Fashion trends pass us by, and micro trends are even more transient. However, there is one fashion phenomenon that is here to stay: sustainability.
Driven by the climate emergency, sustainable fashion is no longer an afterthought, but the epicentre of the conversation. However, while searching for brands that reflect your values and goals, you’ll quickly discover that many terms and phrases related to sustainability lack clear definitions or regulations. This is why we’ve compiled a glossary of the terminology you’re likely to encounter. This is simply a starting point; keep in mind that these phrases are always changing, open to interpretation, and incredibly broad.
Sustainable fashion: The definition of sustainable fashion is widely acknowledged to be subjective and to differ from person to person. While sustainability is usually associated with the depletion of natural resources, it has recently been expanded to include the long-term sustainability of social and economic structures as well.
Ethical fashion: While ethical fashion and sustainability are often used interchangeably, ethical fashion is primarily concerned with what is deemed ‘morally correct.’ This covers safe working conditions for garment workers and the payment of living wages, as well as the sourcing of materials and their environmental impact. In essence, ethical fashion is concerned with people, animals, and the environment.
Slow fashion: Slow fashion is a word coined in response to fast fashion, and it advocates for slower production and less consumption. It was coined by Kate Fletcher, a research professor, author, and design activist, and it emphasises quality over quantity, with the belief that long-lasting, timeless clothing is the way to go.
Sustainable collection/sustainable line: A brand’s limited collection of garments or accessories that focuses on one or a few aspects of sustainability. The problem is that this typically only accounts for a small portion of a brand’s output, implying that their business model and methods are still mostly unsustainable. These collections frequently fail to address worker rights, working conditions, or wages.
Eco-friendly/green/environmentally-friendly/environmentally conscious: These broad, undefined terms are ambiguous and provide little information on environmental practises. Yes, they may imply supposedly “greener” methods, but they don’t provide you with any concrete, detailed, or quantitative facts to aid your decision-making.
Circular fashion: Circularity refers to the process of keeping clothing in circulation for as long as possible. It considers every aspect of the fashion lifecycle, from design and sourcing to production, transportation, storage, marketing, and sale, as well as usage and disposal. From the consumer’s perspective, it can look like buying clothes made of biodegradable materials and upcycling them once they’ve served their purpose.
Minimum wage: The lowest amount of pay that an employer is legally allowed to pay an employee in a particular country.
Living wage: A living wage is the amount of money paid for a regular work week that allows the worker and their family to maintain a decent standard of living. This includes food, housing, healthcare, clothing, transportation, utilities, essentials, and emergency savings. In many circumstances, the minimum wage is an insufficient living wage.
Fair working conditions: This covers an employee’s working environment, including fair remuneration, safe working spaces, capped working hours, paid overtime, and legal rights.
Right to unionise/collective bargaining: Unionising, also known as freedom of association, is a means for employees and employers to come to an agreement on workplace issues. This means that workers should be free to join a union and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions.
Modern slavery: According to The Conversation, fashion is one of five key industries implicated in modern slavery. Modern slavery comes in many forms, and for the fashion industry, it looks like forced labour, debt bondage/bonded labour, and child labour.
B Corporation: A type of certification that measures a company’s triple bottom line, looking at workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Brands certified B Corp here in the UK include Toms, Veja, and Finisterre.
Pre-loved/secondhand: Not a new item, but one that has previously been owned or worn by someone else. It may have come from an op shop, been a hand-me-down, or been swapped from a friend.
Vintage: An item that is between 20 to 99 years old, and has the characteristics of the era it is from.
Upcycled:The process of altering an item of clothing to transform it into something new, usually using a preloved item of clothing. This can be accomplished by changing the hemlines, adding new elements, integrating several items, and so on. It encourages circularity by extending the life of a garment.
Deadstock fabric: Fabric from fashion houses that has minor flaws, is excess stock due to an overestimation of demand, or scraps from production floors. While some claim that manufacturers are using deadstock fabrics to keep them out of landfills, others claim that brands are purposely producing surplus material to sell.
Fabric made from recycled plastic bottles: The recycling of plastic typically involves turning it into recycled polyester, which is a form of plastic. While this is more environmentally friendly than virgin plastic, these clothes still emit microplastics and microfibres, which wind up in our oceans, rivers, and soil. These products are unable to be recycled and, as a result, end up in landfills at the end of their life.
Vegan: Fashion made without animals or animal-derived products, and free from materials such as leather, wool, fur, down and silk.
Biodegradable: Biodegradable clothes and dyes break down naturally and decompose after they’ve been discarded. All materials eventually degrade, although synthetic fabrics can take centuries to do so. Biodegradable fabrics include linen, hemp, bamboo, and cotton, to name a few.
Carbon neutrality: Carbon neutrality refers to a company’s efforts to balance or ‘offset’ its carbon emissions. Donating to organisations that plant new trees or decreasing emissions through energy efficiency are common examples.
Regenerative: Regenerative agriculture is defined as farming practises that rebuild soil organic matter and restore depleted soil biodiversity, effectively improving land rather than merely exploiting it for resources.
Zero waste: Zero waste fashion is a production technique that produces no rubbish. It has its roots in circularity. This entails maximising the use of existing resources, such as employing fabric offcuts and scraps to create new goods, as well as looking at the end of a garment’s life cycle and providing repair or closed-loop services.