50 Sustainable Fashion Terms for Beginners

Sustainable fashion terms

The fashion business has always been notorious for generating huge tons of waste and giving low wages to its workers. Hence the need for sustainable fashion measures was of utmost importance for the fashion business. Sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is Designed, Manufactured, Distributed, and Used in such a way that it does not harm the environment.

"Clothes aren’t going to change the world, the women who wear (and make!) them will". – Anne Klein

In this page, we have listed and explained 50 terms related to sustainable fashion and ethical fashion. This sustainable fashion terminologies are curated by Agniv Chatterjee. 

1. Sustainable Fashion

Sustainability means finding a balance between designing, manufacturing, and consuming clothes without exploiting the environment or its living beings. Being sustainable also ensures a balance between the future and the present by thinking longtime approach in production and consumption. Read what is a sustainable garment.

2. Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle means that the products manufactured have full cyclability in biological cycles. This means that the raw materials and other dyestuff and chemicals applied throughout the production are fully biodegradable and do not have anything which harms humans and the environment. Know more about cradle to cradle approach in the fashion industry.

3. Cradle to Grave

Cradle to Grave is an assessment process on the environmental impact of a product from its production process to its disposal.

4. Fast Fashion

Fast fashion can be defined as producing trendy and cheap items in masses that are sold at low prices. They are cheap trendy items usually produced on customer's demand when it is “in trend” then gets discarded when the trend subsides. It forms a key part of pollution in the textile industry as it gives rise to overproduction and consumption of fashion which is discarded later.

5. Slow Fashion

Coined by Kate Fletcher it is just the opposite of Fast fashion. Slow fashion means to better quality garments less often that would last for a longer period of time and values fair treatment of animals, people, and the planet. The processes and resources required to make clothing particularly focus on sustainability.

“The first step to slow fashion is asking why before you buy.” – Elizabeth Joy

6. Circular Fashion and Circularity

Based partly on William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle design philosophy, Circular Fashion is about designing waste out of products in such a way that they regenerate natural systems at the end of their life.

Circular fashion can be defined as clothes, shoes, accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intent to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in the most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.

Related post: Challenges in circular fashion movement

7. Eco Fashion

The primary objective of Eco Fashion is to minimize the impact on the environment. It is designed and manufactured in such a way that it maximizes the benefit to the people and minimizes the adverse effect on the environment.

8. Fairtrade Fashion (Fair Trade)

Fairtrade generally refers to the general movement which safeguards the workers’ health and rights. The workers work in a healthy environment and are given proper wages.

9. Vegan fashion

Vegan Fashion refers to the products manufactured using zero animal products. Animal rights have always been a broader category in sustainability and hence vegan fashion paves its way through it.

10. Cruelty-Free fashion

Being closely related to veganism cruelty-free products refer to products which are not tested on animals.

11. Green washing (Greenwashing)

Greenwashing is the way of portraying a company’s products, policies, and activities as environmentally friendly when in reality they are not. It is a growing concern nowadays as many companies try to hide their unethical practices by using them.

12. Minimalism

Minimalism is a way of conscious consumption of items and get free from any unnecessary clothing. To consume fewer products and to wear each product more are the basic principles of Minimalism.

13. Recycling | Recycling of fashion items

Recycling is the act of converting waste into something useful. With the growing pollution, recycling has become a key tool of sustainability. Hence many well-known companies have started recycling plastic into clothing and sweater fleece.

14. Upcycling

Based on Cradle to Cradle approach up-cycling also turns waste into reusable products but of better quality. It is about re-using and re-purposing old items into making something new. As it uses less energy to recycle products so has a better environmental impact.

15. Down cycling

It is the opposite of up-cycling where the products after use go to waste because it has less value as compared to a new product. This is not a good practice and leads to the pollution of non-reusable products.

16. Transparency

Transparency means to openly share every information about how, when, and by whom the product is being made from start to the finish. Being transparent is the first step towards being sustainable as it lets the customer know about the complete history of the products they are buying.

17. Traceability

Traceability is the ability to know a product's supply chain right from the start to the end and be able to track back any step of its manufacturing process. Brands started tracing the sources of the fibre used in the clothes and processed handled by suppliers in the whole supply chain. The importance of traceability is explained in this article.

18. Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting takes place when a company invests in one or more environmental projects to balance out its greenhouse emission and become carbon neutral. This includes planting trees, carbon-free shipping, and many other initiatives.

19. Living wage

Living wage is the bare minimum salary required for workers to live a decent life. It is different from the legal minimum wage which far less than living wage.

20. Organic Fashion

Organic Fashion refers to clothing that has been made with minimum use of chemicals and henceforth has a limited impact on the environment.

21. Locally Produced Fashion

These are locally produced fashion items that have the advantage of minimizing the need for the item to travel to its owner. This reduces carbon dioxide emission, easier to oversee working conditions, and fair payment of wages.

22. Fashion seals

To spot sustainable fashion more easily, a number of certifications known as fashion seals have been developed to help the consumer know the kind of sustainable fashion they have chosen.

23. Sustainable fashion ranking

Sustainable fashion ranking is a way of measuring how several engaging brands measures sustainability. It compares various activities and works of companies and helps to determine which company is more sustainably inclined.

24. FSC-Certified

If a product is FSC-Certified, it means the fabric is made from a tree fibre that comes from sustainable sources and is not taken from any endangered or threatened species or forests. Rather the fibre comes from well-managed forests and large-scale conservation areas. Some products like Tencel and Monocel are FSC-Certified.

25. Biodegradable

Biodegradable means that a product can be broken down naturally without any negative impact on the environment. In the apparel industry, it means making garments from organic sources like organic cotton.

26. Cost per wear

Cost per wear is the value of an item with respect to the number of times it’s been worn. For example: A shirt of 500 rupees can be worn twice a year that’s 250 rupees per wear or 10 times a year which is 5 rupees per wear. Hence, it’s always better to spend on items which can be worn for a longer period.

27. Rental | Clothes on rent

As the name suggests it’s about renting garments rather than purchasing it. This is very beneficial as it helps in cutting down pollution and also a garment is worn more number of times than it would have if it was purchased.

28. Resale

Another way to cope up with overconsumption is to resale items. It’s a way to sell away pre-owned items and hence reducing waste generation. This is also called as thrifting. Know more about fashion thrifting.

29. Dematerialisation

It is a method to reduce the products sold to the consumer and hence is a counter for materialism.

30. Over consumption

With 100 billion garments being manufactured every year, overconsumption of apparel has become a big problem. It has been noted that the number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36 % in the last two decades and hence discarded clothes add up to the bulk of waste products in the textile world.

31. Product Carbon footprint

Product carbon footprint is a way to measure greenhouse gas emissions related to a product. From its extraction of raw materials to its manufacturing process to its disposal, it keeps a note of every step. In the twenty first century all the responsible fashion manufacturing companies use to measure carbon footprint of their products.

32. Value chain

It is the process by which most companies add value to a product including production, marketing, and the provision of after-sales service. It harbors many problems of fast fashion as companies try to exploit human resources and natural resources.

33. GOTS Certified

GOTS Certified means that the product has been certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). It is a German standard that reviews the organic status of textile from harvesting raw material to environmentally and responsibly manufacturing it all the way down to its labeling. It is one of the most difficult certifications a textile item could get.

34. Zero Waste Fashion

This refers to clothing that generates little or no wastes in its production. It can be divided into two general approaches Pre-consumer Zero-waste fashion which eliminates waste during its manufacture and Post-consumer Zero-waste fashion which generates clothing from second-hand clothing thus reducing waste.

35. Compliance

Compliance is the act of adhering to the law by textile companies. This may not be a good thing as labor laws in most of the countries (example: - Myanmar) is weak.]

36. Conscious Consumer

A conscious consumer is a person who consciously consumes products, taking the time to think about their choices and find a way to minimize waste. It is the opposite of Mindless consumerism.

37. Microplastic

Microplastics are plastic pieces that usually measure less than 5 mm in length. It has two sources – primary sources which are made to that size and secondary sources which are made by breaking down large plastics. Synthetic clothes, which are one of the largest sources of environmental pollution, are responsible for more than one-third of all microplastics polluting our waters.

38. Monoculture or Monocropping

Related to organic farming Monoculture is about cultivating only one kind or species of plant or animal. It is a large-scale production technique that allows for specialization, simplicity, and efficiency. However, the growth of only one crop has a negative impact on the soil texture and leads to more use of pesticides and in turn more pollution.

39. Tier-1 Factories

These are facilities that handle the final step of product manufacture and the preparatory process of its distribution. Some fashion brands have shared their list of the final sets of factories with the public.

40. Deadstock fabric

Deadstock factories are textile fabrics that are no longer useful for companies. There are many reasons to form this such as when the fabric no longer fits for the company’s design or just overstock of a particular fabric and serves as wastage. Hence many companies like Gosphia collects this deadstock fabric and make limited edition good quality garments from them.

41. Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship refers to fabrics and accessories made with traditional artisanal techniques that preserve the local culture and heritage of a place and their transmission from generation to generation.

42. Paradigm Change

Paradigm Change or Paradigm shift is the fundamental change in perception and ways of thinking in new circumstances. This helps us to make changes in the ways a product is designed, manufactured, sold, and consumed in a more sustainable way.

43. Secondhand apparels

It refers to the items which were previously worn and owned by someone else but now have been passed down to a new owner. This significantly cuts down garment waste and consumption of new apparel items. This impacts in consumption of raw materials and natural resources in manufacturing apparel items.

44. B-Corporation

B Corporation is a type of certification that measures the triple bottom line of a company namely keeping an eye on its workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment

45. Modern Slavery

Modern slavery is severe exploitation of other people for one’s own profit and benefit. According to “The conservation” the fashion industry is one of the five key industries implicating modern slavery in the form of forced labour, debt bondage/bonded labour, and child labour.

46. Green Factory (Green Building)

Green buildings are becoming increasingly important, and tenants are demanding more sustainable buildings. Apparels made from green factories are considered producing garments sustainable ways.

47. LEED Certification

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. LEED certified buildings reduce stress on the environment. They are more energy and resource-efficient. They generate less waste and lower the use of energy, water, and other resources. Garment suppliers can earn points for storage and collection of recyclables, renewable energy use, and indoor water use reduction.

48. Circular Economy

Circular economy is like circular fashion. It has 4 key advantages. Reduced dependency on imported raw materials. (ii) Creation of eco-friendly industries and jobs. (iii) Eco-friendly brands benefit from a better public image. (iv) Reduction in environmental damage caused by resource extraction.

49. Closed loop fashion

Closed loop cycle is a common term and its very similar to circular fashion. In fashion, it means that new clothes are made from preexisting clothes and textiles. Once an item has reached the end of its lifecycle, it can be broken down, turned back into fibre/yarn/fabric through various processes and then recycled into another garment. This forms a “closed-loop” in that an item would have an eternal life cycle and therefore eliminate waste.

50. Post-Consumer Waste (PCW)

The use of PCW textiles in the ready-made garment is increasing by many apparel brands to make the fashion business more sustainable. The used clothing and discarded garments by consumers are collected and reprocessed to convert garments into recycled yarns.
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” – Mahatma Gandhi

References and Further reading:

  1. https://goodonyou.eco/sustainable-fashion-glossary/
  2. https://www.considerate-consumer.com/sustainable-fashion-terminology
  3. https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/sustainable-fashion-terms-glossary/
  4. https://zerrin.com/25-sustainable-fashion-terms-you-should-know/
  5. https://www.condenast.com/glossary/key-elements-of-fashion-and-sustainability
  6. https://www.vogue.com/article/sustainable-fashion-terms-conde-nast-glossary
  7. https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/sustainability-buzzword-glossary

About the Author: Agniv Chatterjee is pursuing his graduate degree from the Department of Textile Technology, Government College of Engineering and Textile Technology, Serampore.

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