Sustainable Fashion Dictionary by Lauren Tjoe

Sustainable Fashion Dictionary

sustainable fashion definition

We get it—starting your sustainable fashion journey can be confusing. What’s the difference between an ethical, sustainable or conscious wardrobe? Should I be shopping for secondhand or slow fashion? With so many buzzwords, sustainable fashion jargon can seem like learning a new language. But no worries, we’re here to break it down for you with this fool-proof intro to sustainable fashion terms and definitions. 

Capsule Wardrobe: a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London boutique called "Wardrobe" in the 1970s. According to Faux, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that do not go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.

Carbon Neutral: refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon dioxide emissions with carbon removal or simply eliminating carbon dioxide emissions.

Circular Fashion*: refers to a cycle in which resources are continuously cycled in various forms, following a reuse and recycle loop. These resources, therefore, do not go to waste. 

*(See Linear Fashion)

Conscious: refers to a method of manufacturing or purchasing clothes with an understanding of the social and environmental impact that went into the creation of the garment.

Cruelty-Free/Vegan: refers to animal welfare and whether any animals were hurt or harmed during the production of the garment.

Deadstock: refers to resources such as textiles and fibres that are left unused by a manufacturer perhaps due to changing fashion trends, minimal demand or imperfections. These materials typically become waste. 

Eco-friendly: refers to products that have been manufactured in a way that has not harmed the environment. Unfortunately, this all-encompassing term has no measurable metrics and, therefore, is often used in greenwashed* advertising campaigns.

*(see Greenwashing) 

Ethical: fashion that aims to reduce the negative impact on people, animals, and the planet. Producing an item of clothing involves design, labour, and materials. Ethical fashion is kind to the planet and people every step of the way: from seed to garment.

Fair Trade: trading between companies in developed countries and producers in developing countries. Fair prices are paid to the producers, and companies are able to provide workers with a stable income that can improve their lives.

Fast Fashion: used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. Fast-Fashion is often created as cheaply and quickly as possible, meaning that clothes are often crafted with poor quality and garment workers are often subject to dangerous and unfair working conditions. 

GOTS certified: the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.

Green: refers to products that have been manufactured in a way that has not harmed the environment. Unfortunately, this all-encompassing term has no measurable metrics and, therefore, is often used in greenwashed* advertising campaigns.

*(see Greenwashing) 

Greenwashing: the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly.

Linear: follows the “take-make-dispose” step-by-step plan. This means that raw materials are collected, then transformed into products that are used until they are finally discarded as waste. Value is created in this economic system by producing and selling as many products as possible.

Living Wage: A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs. This is different than a minimum wage.

Micro-plastics/Micro-fibres: very small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment. Microplastics are not a specific kind of plastic, but rather any type of plastic fragment that is less than 5 mm in length according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the European Chemicals Agency.

Natural: often refers to the fibres that the clothes are made out of. Once again, the use of the word natural has little to no value when assessing the sustainability of a garment and is often used as a greenwashing buzzword.

Organic: includes fibres such as cotton, wool, hemp, flax (linen), and other natural fibers grown according to national organic standards without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetic engineering.

Post-Consumer Waste: material that has been discarded by its final consumer for disposal or recovery.

Secondhand: Clothes and other items that have been previously owned and, therefore, do not contribute to additional clothing waste. 

Slow-Fashion: the antithesis of fast fashion. Apparel manufacturing that respects people, animals, and the environment. Kate Fletcher, the author, design activist, and professor who coined the term, wrote, “Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components). Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism – but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities and ecosystems.”

Sustainable: capable of being sustained. Harvesting or using a resource without depleting or permanently damaging the resource. Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

Sustainable Fashion: the design, production, and consumption of clothing in a manner that respects the planet and the people who make our clothes.

Swapping: the process of exchanging one thing for another. Rather than purchasing new clothes, swapping secondhand pieces is a waste-free, sustainable approach to gathering new clothes.

Traceability: collecting and managing information regarding what has been done in manufacturing processes from the acceptance of raw materials, production of garments to shipment of products. Traceability also usually includes information about factory standards and working conditions that a manufacturer has in place.

Transparency: the ability to have full availability and access to information required for collaboration and collective management decision making.

Upcycling: Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality, such as artistic value or environmental value.

Zero-waste: Zero Waste is a set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean.

Now that you know your ABCs of sustainable fashion, it’s your turn to decide what a conscious closet means to you! Good luck with your sustainable fashion journey! 


Lauren Tjoe lives in Vancouver, Canada and is currently attending the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. She has always been involved with philanthropic initiatives and, while working on a human rights project, found herself down a fast fashion rabbit hole. Since then, Lauren has been a passionate advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion, often making her own clothes rather than buying new!


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