This A-Z sustainable fashion glossary will help you understand key terms, enrich your knowledge about eco-fashion and keep you up to speed on the conversations going on around you. Happy learning!
Artisan is a skilled craft worker who makes or creates material objects partly or entirely by hand. When possible, look for clothes made by craftspeople and artisans. This supports their traditional and artisanal expertise, skills and processes to preserve their cultural heritage. Be aware of cultural appropriation (or misappropriation) – this is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture.
Biodegradable means that a product can break down naturally without any negative effects on the environment, such as releasing harmful chemicals. In the fashion industry, biodegradable often refers to non-synthetic fabrics such as organic cotton (description below), silk, and hemp — those without dyes and finishing chemicals.
Circular fashion refers to the entire lifecycle of a product and centers on a circle of create, use, recycle, rather than create, use, dispose. It looks at products beyond their original function and timespan and focuses on how their materials can be consistently utilized and repurposed. Circular fashion takes in to consideration everything including the design, sourcing, transportation, storage, marketing, sale and disposal of the product.
Dematerialisation is the reduction of products sold to consumers; a countermovement of materialism.
Eco-friendly, like sustainability, is an all encompassing term that takes many factors into account. “Eco” is short for ecology, the study of interaction between organisms and the environment. Therefore, eco-friendly is about minimizing anything that would negatively affect that balance.
Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing that is produced quickly and cheaply. Brands and retailers that engage in fast fashion often create products based on seasonal trends directly inspired by the runway. Fast fashion brands are generally associated with overproduction, low retail prices, mass waste, poor working conditions, and negative environmental impact.
Greenwashing is what happens when a brand gives a false impression of its sustainable endeavors. With the increasing demand for sustainability in the fashion industry, some brands are launching “sustainable” capsules. Through a line like that, the brand hopes to convince consumers that that small collection speaks for the brand’s production values as a whole, regardless of whether or not that’s actually the case.
Hemp is often considered an environmental “super fibre”. Hemp fabric is made from the fibres in the herbaceous plant of the species cannabis sativa. It’s a high-yield crop that produces significantly more fibre per acre than either cotton or flax.
Industrial ecology optimizes the total material’s cycle from virgin fabric to finish, to an element, to a product, to be obsolete, and to the final disposal. The optimized component includes factors such as resources, energy, and capital.
Jute is a 100% biodegradable and very affordable natural fibre that grows well without fertilisers or pesticides. It can be used to make hessian and is very commonly plaited or woven to make the soles of espadrille shoes.
Km0 fabrics and accessories produced within a supply chain where the manufacturing phases are carried out locally in order to reduce long distance transportation emissions and pollution.
Life cycle thinking describes a thought process that considers environmental impacts over the entire life cycle of a product and not just at one point (e.g. manufacturing or recovery).
Minimalism is about reducing the amount of stuff that you own. It’s not about having nothing; it’s about having less. Focusing on what matters by decluttering and removing what’s burdening us. It can mean having a minimal amount of clothes in your wardrobe but not necessarily.
Natural fibres are fibres extracted from natural sources such as soy and hemp as opposed to synthetic fibres made from chemicals and plastic that negatively impact our environment.
Organic is a term we see a lot in the food industry, but it also applies to fashion. It refers to raw materials that are not genetically modified (GM) and have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, sewage sludge, ionizing radiation or other artificial ways. The term ‘organic’ generally has a positive context, but just because a product is organic does not make it ethical.
Product carbon footprint is a measure of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to goods, from the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing to its use and to the final re-use, recycling or disposal.
Qualitative fashion is when fashion adheres to high standards of production without creating an imbalance in the ecological footprint. It not only means that your clothing is free of any defect, is made using the best quality raw materials, but also is not impacting the environment and people in this pursuit.
Recycling is the action of converting waste into something reusable. For example, some brands have turned plastic bottles into yarn to make fleece sweaters or coats. Fabrics and accessories can be made from recycled – pre or post consumer – or second life fibres or materials.
Slow fashion is a countermovement against fast fashion and refers to increased consideration of the processes and resources required to make clothing, particularly focusing on sustainability; it is a movement that prioritizes quality over quantity.
Transparency and traceability go hand-in-hand. In order to be transparent, a brand shares the names and information about every factory (and ideally every worker) involved in the manufacturing process. In turn, this gives a product traceability, meaning consumers can trace a product and its components back through each step of the supply chain, right down to its raw material.
Upcycling also turns waste into reusable material, but of better quality. Upcycling removes waste from the system; it requires less energy than recycling, and so has a better environmental impact.
Value chain is the process by which a company adds value to a product including production, marketing, and the provision of after-sales service. Many problems of fast fashion lie in the value chain because companies try to maximise value by exploiting human resources and natural resources.
Waste Management – Adoption of waste saving technologies and measures, like reuse and recycle.
Yarn can be made from all sorts of things, from natural materials including cotton and wool, to man-made ones like recycled plastic bottles. It can then be knitted or woven into clothing and accessories.
Zero waste fashion refers to items of clothing that generate little or no textile waste in their production. It is part of the broader Sustainable fashion movement. We can divide it into two general approaches. Pre-consumer zero-waste fashion eliminates waste during manufacture. Post-consumer zero-waste fashion generates clothing from post-consumer garments such as second-hand clothing, eliminating waste at what would normally be the end of the product use life of a garment.