What Do These Fashion Sustainability Buzzwords Really Mean?

Fashion trends come and go, and micro trends are even more fleeting. But one fashion movement that’s here to stay is sustainability . Propelled by the climate emergency, fashion sustainability is no longer an afterthought, but the epicentre of conversation.

The #sustainablefashion hashtag has over 1.3 billion TikTok views, and #sustainablefashionbrand has racked up almost two billion. It’s clear that there is a hunger for brands that are conscious of fashion’s destructive impact, and who care for their workers and the environment . It’s also clear that many brands are trying to cash into this do-gooder spirit.

But while looking for brands that share your values and goals , you’ll quickly find that many words and phrases surrounding sustainability don’t have strict definitions or regulations. This is why we’ve put together a glossary of common terms you might come across. This is just a launching pad — keep in mind that these terms are in constant flux, open to interpretation, and understandably broad.

Sustainable fashion : It’s widely accepted that the definition of sustainable fashion is subjective and varies from person to person . While it’s typically linked to the depletion of natural, environmental resources, the definition of sustainability has now expanded to include the longevity of social and economic systems as well.

Ethical fashion : While often used interchangeably with sustainability, ethical fashion focuses more on what is considered ‘morally right’. This includes safe working conditions and the payment of living wages for garment workers, as well as how materials are sourced, and their environmental impact. Essentially, ethical fashion cares for people, animals, and the planet.

Slow fashion: A term that was created in direct opposition to fast fashion, slow fashion champions slower production and a reduction in consumption. Coined by research professor, author and design activist Kate Fletcher , it focuses on quality rather than quantity, with the mindset that long-lasting, timeless apparel is the sustainable way forward.

Sustainable collection/sustainable line : A limited range of garments or accessories released from a brand that hones in on one, or a few, elements of sustainability. This might include using organic materials, recycled plastic, or more environmentally-friendly packaging. The problem is that this often only represents a small percentage of a brand’s output, meaning that their business model and practices are still mostly unsustainable. Nor do these collections typically acknowledge worker rights, conditions and pay.

Eco-friendly/green/environmentally-friendly/environmentally conscious : These broad and unqualified buzzwords are vague and don’t actually provide any information around environmental practices. Yes, they might insinuate supposedly ‘greener’ practices, but don’t give you any tangible, specific, or measurable information to help your choices.

Circular fashion : Circularity is about keeping garments in circulation for as long as possible. It takes all parts of the fashion lifecycle into consideration — from design and sourcing to production, transportation, storage, marketing and sale, all the way to usage and end of life. From a consumer’s point of view, it might look like choosing clothes made from biodegradable materials, and upcycling the garment […]

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