The Sustainable Fashion Glossary

Sustainable Fashion


This is a when a factory is inspected by a brand or independent company to assess working conditions and that health and safety regulations are being followed. If unannounced, such audits should be able to check if child labour is being used or work is being passed on unauthorised to outside workers in unregulated environments.


Something that can ‘break down naturally and decompose into the earth. This term is often used when referring to natural fibres such as cotton, some plant-based materials such as cellulose and also wood based products like paper and card. Materials such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester are artificial fibres made from petroleum and so never biodegrade. They also shed harmful microfibres. (see below).


This is the amount of greenhouse gases that a person or company produces through what they do. This can be CO2 emissions from electricity use, methane from cattle in the production of leather or 
Nitrous Oxide from diesel transportation. The bigger the carbon footprint, the more damaging to the earth and contributes to climate breakdown.


This is when a company takes action to get their carbon footprint down to zero. This can be done with the use of renewable energy, recycling materials and energy saving measures. Carbon offsetting measures such as investment into tree planting schemes is also thought to contribute to making a product or company carbon neutral. 


These are fashion products that are designed to last as long as possible by good care practices, repairing or modifying and are able to be recycled at the end of life. This means they must be made of primarily biodegradable materials and easily disassembled into their constituent parts. The use of renewable resources and energy is preferred and the use of virgin materials is minimized. Circular fashion is often referred to as being cradle-to-cradle. More recently circular fashion is often used to refer to the reuse of garments through rental and resale. Read more here.


The process of making materials from cellulosic fibres (plant-based) involves heavy industrial processing and toxic chemicals. Many rayon, viscose and and bamboo fabrics can therefore be damaging to the environment due to the chemicals getting into waterways. However, production of modal, lyocell and some bamboo materials keep the waste water and chemicals in a ‘closed-loop’


This is mathematical way of valuing a fashion product by dividing the purchase price of the item by the amount of times it has been worn. This can often go to prove that spending more on a good quality, classic item will cost less over time as it will last longer. Read more here.


These are products that are do not cause harm to any animals but can also mean products that don’t contain any animal materials. 


Deadstock refers to unused fabrics or garments. Unused fabrics might be the end of rolls or stock surplus. Deadstock garments are stock that didn’t sell or may have been returned or cannot be sold due to defects. Currently most deadstock garments are often incinerated which you can read about here.


These are fabrics that are more sustainable than the most commonly used varieties and so have a lower impact on the earth. They would include organic cotton, bamboo fabrics, hemp and also reclaimed or  recycled fabrics such as Eco-spun which is made from  plastic bottles. There are also other unusual fabrics such as soya made from tofu manufacturing waste and seacell made from wood pulp and seaweed.


Fashion products that are made without the use of child labour, slave labour and exploitation of workers. Workers are paid a living wage, work in safe conditions and are have rights including being able to unionize to support themselves. Ethical fashion is now becoming a more widely used term to cover good environmental practices and sustainability too, such as treatment and control of dyes, chemicals and waste water. Complete transparency on factories, workers rights, animal welfare and environmental policies are now a big part of ethical fashion.


These are fashion products made with Fairtrade certified fabrics. The certification means that the farmers and workers who grew the raw materials and produce the fabric receive a ‘fair’ price for their work and have good working conditions. It also guarantees respect for the environment and a level of transparency about the materials.


Fashion activism is when people get involved in campaigns and direct action to highlight issues within the fashion industry. This can vary from online campaigns pressuring brands to pay their workers (see the #payup campaign here) to protesting at London Fashion Week or outside stores and brand headquarters. Boycotting certain brands due to their unethical practices is another form of activism that has seen many change their ways.


The renting of garments on a short term basis most often seen in the formalwear sector although new sectors such as babywear and womenswear are now becoming popular. Read more on rental and it’s benefits here.


Fast fashion refers to when garments are turned very quickly from designs to being in store. Some fast fashion brands now do this in just 4 weeks or less. This term can also refer to brands who have a massive turnaround of stock and new collections every week. Fast fashion has become known for it’s use of exploitative labour practices, low prices and disposability. Fast fashion stores are quickly replenished to respond to seasonal trends, celebrity styles and catwalk looks.


Garment leasing is similar to garment rental but longer term. Mud Jeans were the first brand to use this as a business model. At the end of the lease term the customer can pay a fee to keep the garment or get a new one in a similar way to car leasing. Leasing can be an affordable way to access sustainable brands.


GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is the highest industry certification standard for organic cotton. This standard requires strict regulation for ecology and working conditions throughout the supply chain. The Soil Association is the UK member of this organisation.


This term refers to when marketing, packaging or schemes are designed to convince customers that the product is more eco-friendly then it is. Sometimes this can be as simple as using the words ‘natural’ in its description or featuring natural imagery on the packaging. It can sometimes also be a means of redirecting the customers attention from other environmentally damaging practices that company is involved in.  Read more here.


A living wage is what a worker can actually live on, which includes enough to feed and house themselves and live in dignity. A living wage is higher than a national minimum wage that most garment workers are paid. Most garment workers live in the poorest countries in the world where an increase to a living wage would benefit their lives dramatically. Wages in such countries are kept down by governments who want to attract and keep big fashion brands to their industries.  


These are tiny synthetic particles that are less than 5mm in size. They shed from clothes that are made from synthetic fibres such as polyester and acrylic and get into the environment. When our clothes are washed the microfibres go into our waterways and are harmful to aquatic life. They can attract nasty chemical which animals can ingest. Microfibres are now found to shed from car tyres, road markings and paint on buildings and have found their way into our drinking water and food. We can reduce the amount we create by following good eco-laundry practice here or using a guppy friend bag.


This is a structure through which companies can manage biodiversity risk. This is done through five steps: avoid, reduce, restore & regenerate and transform. Meaning that it looks at avoiding and minimising negative impacts as well as restoring land and then going further to add positive impacts outside of their own supply chain.


Cotton, wool, hemp and linen are all examples of fabrics made from natural fibres. Cotton linen and hemp come from plants and wool of course from animals like sheep or alpaca. Natural fibres have many environmental positives including biodegradability.


This is the highest industry certification for the testing for raw, semi-finished and finished textile products and accessory materials. This standard guarantees that products do not contain any banned and harmful chemicals and are safe to wear.


The majority of the clothes we buy in the UK are made abroad (off-shore). This is due to fact that back in the 1980’s fashion retailers realised they could minimise costs and increase their profits by moving their production overseas where garment workers wages were significantly less. This has meant mass exploitation of workers in some of the poorest countries in the world. On-shore manufacturing means that production is done in the same country as where the brand is based. This can significantly reduce a company’s carbon footprint. Read more about British made fashion here.


These are fabrics that are made from raw materials ie. cotton or linen that is grown from non-genetically modified seed without the use of toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and with no harmful chemical treatments. Workers picking organic cotton are not exposed to harmful toxins and the organic fabric will not be harmful to the skin of the wearer. Read about organic cotton here.


Raw denim is denim that has not been washed  (otherwise known as sanforized) after the garment has been made . Most jeans and other denim products have this treatment which uses a lot of water. Raw denim has a cult following among some who like the distinctive and unique fades that develop through creasing during prolonged wearing. Most raw denim lovers wear their jeans for 6 months before first washing them to create these fades.  Read more about slow denim here.


Also known as resale or consignment this is where brands take back their own used garments and then resell them. This often involves a discount or incentive to encourage customers to give back their old garments. You can buy our pre-loved garments here.


Recycled fabrics are fabrics made from recycled content or yarn. These are currently predominantly synthetics or mixed fibres such as poly cotton. This is due to recycled cotton fibres being shorter than virgin cotton therefore a synthetic fibre is needed to be able to be spin the yarn. Common recycled fabrics are polyester made from recycled plastic (PET) bottles. Read about the issues with these fabrics here.


Regenerative fashion is where the fibre used to create the garment is grown through regenerative farming methods. These methods restore and enhance the ecosystem of the environment the fibre is grown in by naturally enriching soil health, using water management and avoiding chemicals. Regenerative fashion may also encompass circular fashion principles in keeping garments in use for longer and designing with end of life in mind.


Slow fashion is a movement that includes both of the above and is the opposite of ‘fast’ fashion. Slow fashion products are often produced in small batches rather than mass production, will be higher quality and made to last longer. The movement suggests that we buy better, buy less and wear longer to address the mass consumption of fashion that creates so much waste. They may incorporate some ideas of circularity too, meaning that they are designed to be repaired or recycled. Read more here.


Most large fashion brand mass produce each style anticipating how well it will sell based on previous styles and other market factors. The massive volumes are more cost effective and run into hundreds of thousands of one style. However this method can often create massive amounts of waste in unsold stock which some brands even incinerate. Small batch production is generally under 500 units of one style. 


This is all the suppliers, processors and manufacturers involved in creating a product. Big brand supply chains can be very complex and the links will stretch across the globe. Many of these brands know nothing about where their materials come from or the lives of the people who produce them. This can create huge ethical problems such as sweatshops and child labour as brands are not being held accountable for such exploitation. Read more on supply chains here.


Fashion products that are made with materials that are natural or renewable and using sustainable methods of production. Materials would often be low impact, such as organics fabrics, natural fibres like bamboo, hemp or linen or reclaimed and recycled materials. Sometimes this term is used when talking about new material innovations like using pineapple skins to create a leather-type fabric. 


Another term for clothes swapping. Participants bring along unwanted garments and swap them with others thereby prolonging the garment’s life. Find out about clothes swaps here.


Acrylic, nylon and polyester are all examples of man-made or synthetic fabrics which are made from petro-chemicals (basically plastic) These do not bio-degrade and release harmful micro-fibres into the air and waterways.


A take back scheme is a scheme where retailers organise collection of their used products. This is sometimes done through in-store collection points and sometimes by the customers sending them back to the retailer. These schemes work in conjunction with re-commerce/resale for the used products to be sold again. See re-commerce / resale above for more details.


This is when a brand discloses information about the factories they use, and how the workers are treated and paid. They may also make information public on what chemicals and processes they use in manufacturing. Traceability is a term that is often used along side this and refers to being able to show exactly where all the products components have come from. This might include where the raw materials like cotton came from. Transparency can be a good indicator of an ethical brand. Read more here.


This is when fashion brands get involved with certain social movements such as Black Lives Matter to make themselves look progressive or appealing to their customers. However, behind the scenes many brands are often not paying their workers properly or at all while others do not have people of colour in executive positions within their companies. Read more about BLM here.


The zero waste movement is about challenging ourselves to create less waste by buying less and what we do buy with less or no packaging. It particularly focuses on reducing the use and purchase of single-use plastics and replacing them with biodegradable options, such as paper straws. It can also incorporate bulk food buying, home composting and making your own cleaning products such as hand-wash in order to reduce landfill and therefore our impact on the planet. Zero waste can also be applied to fashion and often means that the garments and patterns are designed in such a way as to avoid wasting any fabric. Read about zero waste fashion here and my zero waste home here

​Let me know if there are any other terms you would like us to add.


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