25 Sustainable Fashion Terms You Should Know

Heard the term 'sustainable fashion' but confused about what it all means? Here's 25 definitions that will help you better understand the global movement for socially and environmentally conscious fashion. From the latest study on biodegradable fibres to buzzwords like 'slow fashion' and 'greenwashing', consider this your handy guide to better understand the growing sustainable fashion movement!

Women's clothing on a rail to accompany a discussion on sustainable terms on ZERRIN

Accountability is a concept in corporate governance that involves the acknowledgment of responsibility by organisations for their actions. Some examples would be social and environmental accountability which refer to organisations taking responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their business practices.

Biodegradable clothing is made out of natural fibres such as hemp and cotton. Other examples include banana fibre from banana plant stems, ancient flax linen, pineapple leather, and coconut husk fabric enhancer that can be turned into non-toxic waste after usage. There is also ongoing research on clothing made from living organisms such as bacteria, algae, yeast, animal cells, and fungi. 

Circular economy is an economy in which products and materials are given a second life through reuse and recycling, as opposed to a linear economy where products are disposed of after use.

Cradle-to-cradle refers to the framework of using the end product for a new product to contain the environmental impact of the product; an important component of a circular economy.

Cradle-to-grave is the assessment of the environmental impact of a product from the production process (aka “birth” of the product) to the disposal of the product (aka “death” of the product).

Dematerialisation is the reduction of products sold to consumers; a countermovement of materialism.

Downcycle is when a used product will go to waste because it has less value compared to the new product and cannot or will not be reused.

Ethical fashion is a term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing and involves a range of issues from the improvement of working conditions to the implementation of cruelty-free production.

Fair trade is an arrangement designed to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions.

Fast fashion is a business model that mass-produce clothing in response to the latest trends. Many retailers release new designs on a weekly to monthly basis and exploit both human resources and natural resources to prioritise quantity over quality.

Image of people bustling through a shopping mall to accompany a discussion on sustainable terms on ZERRIN
Greenwashing is a tactic of marketing in which businesses create a false image that the company is involved in environmentally friendly practices to improve public perception.

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.

On-demand fashion, also known as custom-made clothing, is an environmentally friendly form of fashion because it prevents overproduction of clothes.

Organic fashion is clothes made from organic resources without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals.

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.

Rental clothing is a business model in which clothes, especially clothes for special occasions, can be rented. This is a form of sustainable fashion because it prevents consumers from purchasing clothes that they would not wear on an everyday basis.

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.

Social responsibility is the theory that corporations and individuals should contribute to society and that their actions should be ethically validated.

Sustainability is an umbrella term for any activity that encourages the avoidance of depleting natural resources and exploiting human resources in order to maintain an ecological balance as well as an ethical framework.

Synthetic dyes are chemical dyes that are harmful to the environment because they come from non-renewable resources; they are often harmful to our bodies as well since they can cause eye, skin and lung irritation.

Image of air pollution to accompany a discussion on sustainable terms on ZERRIN

Traceability refers to the ability to trace the history, distribution, location, and application of products, parts, and materials to ensure that there are no human rights violations and negative effects on the environment.

Transparency in terms of sustainability refers to how much companies are disclosing information on their supply chain. For example, companies that advocate for transparency would reveal how they source their materials and whether the people who make the products are sufficiently paid.

Upcycling refers to the reuse of objects by adding value to it, as opposed to downcycling, which diminishes the value of it.

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.

Vegan fashion refers to cruelty-free fashion in which no animals are harmed in the production process. Some alternatives for fur, leather, and silk are synthetic fibres, recycled, repurposed materials, organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and wood pulp fibres although synthetic fibres are known to be harmful to the environment.

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