The Ultimate Sustainable Fashion Glossary is our long-standing commitment to drive change in the world of fashion and style.
It is ever changing and we add new information on an on-going basis.
Accountability is an aspect of governance requiring that organizations and individuals take responsibility for their actions and for their impact. In the fashion industry, accountability means that companies identify, assess, and measure the impact of all their activities on people and the environment. Being accountable relies on companies' voluntary commitment to deliver on high social and environmental standards in their operations, especially with regards to human rights and sustainable development.
Air pollution is the contamination of the indoor and outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological particles that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. The most critial pollutant is Carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), Methane, Sulphur dioxide (SO2), Carbon monoxide, dust and ground-level ozone. This is linked to human activities such as burning of fossil fuels in households, industries such as the fashion industry that contribute from all stages of the supply chain, transportation and how we get rid of waste and its decomposition.
Animal welfare refers to how the animals involved in the fashion supply chain is treated. This is a very critical ethical concern of the industry, as the animals whose skin, fur or feathers are used to make fashion products suffeer mistreatment and cruel handling.
The B Corp Certification is a designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials. The B Corp certification evaluates the overall social and environmental conduct of businesses by considering their impact on workers, customers, communities and the environment.
Bamboo is a natural fiber that can be processed either as a naturally occurring bast fiber (bamboo linen) or a regenerated manufactured fiber (bamboo rayon/viscose or lyocell).
Bamboo linen production can be largely mechanical, as bamboo stems can break up in water or dew, thus minimizing the environmental impact of the process. However, chemicals are often used to speed up the extraction. Bamboo viscose is produced either therough the rayon/viscose or the lyocell process. The lyocell process is preferred as is uses non-toxic solvents and recycles most chemical inputs in a closed-loop manufacturing system. When producing rayon/viscose there are a lot of chemicals involved.
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), or just Better Cotton in short, is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. It ensures that cotton is grown with methods that minimize water use and chemicals.
The BCI has been criticised for not banning pesticides or having no restriction on use of GMO's (see G for more on GMO's). Nor does BCI have protocols or requirements for packaging of their certified items.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gasses (GHG), including carbon dioxide and methane, that are generated by our actions.
The term carbon neutral refers to a situation where greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and CO2 emissions are either balanced by compensating actions (carbon offsetting) or by radical systems change.
Carbon offsetting is actions based on compensating for the carbon footprints. These actions fund projects focusing on reducing the emissions in developing countries. Relying on offsetting is good in the short term and is a good first step for brands. but relying on it is insufficient without reducing emissions in the industry.
Taking care of your clothes is much more than paying attention to the laundry symbol (also called care symbol). Caring is also to pay attention and take responsibility for the effect of our (purchasing) actions and recognizing how the world and people in it are interconnected. In relation to products and goods such as clothing, care is an important aspect.
Keeping clothes around for as long as possible is one of the best things we can do to reduce their impact. We live in a “buy and throw away” culture where disposability is normalized and this causes damaging consequences for the environment and social justice.
Taking good care of an item of clothing can help to significantly increase its lifespan and make it look great for much longer. Taking care of clothing is mostly linked to how we treat the clothes we already own, such as actually knowing the fabrics that make up the clothes, washing the right way and less, washing cold, line drying, storing properly, repairing damages and altering to fit/refreshing the style.
But caring is also prior to purchase, when trying on clothes in stores it should be treated with care, when shopping online buying what we need instead of purchasing for unmindful hauls and returning.
Cashmere is a raw material made from animal hair. It is a soft fiber sourced from cashmere goats by regular combing during the molting season. The majority of cashmere comes from goats in Northern China and Mongolia.
The cashmere yield per goat is very low and a single sweater requires four goats to be combed for a single sweater, and up to 30 goats are combed to get enough material for a coat.
As more people demand cashmere knitwear, the industry has had to ramp up its pace, leading to far lower animal welfare standards, reduced payment to herders and workers causing socio-economic struggles and leading to widespread desertification of grasslands. As goats graze, their hooves pierce the soil surface, which can prevent grass from regrowing. Additionally they dig the plants and eat them - all combining to create this high level of destruction.
There are third party commitments brands’ can make to ensure animal welfare in every step of production such as RWS (Responsible Wool Standard), RMS (Responsible Mohair Standard) and RAS (Responsible Alpaca Standard), where farms are certified against animal welfare, land management and social welfare requirements, and also RAF (Responsible Animal Fiber) Standard for all processing steps to make sure the chain of custody is maintained to the last level of production.
Cashmere can be recycled through a mechanical process, and can be certified with GRS (Global Recycling Standard).
Chemicals are artificially made substances and they can vary in their impact. Fashion production relies heavily on chemical use, and these chemicals cause considerable environmental damage, including water and soil pollution. Chemicals such as pesticides are used when producing natural materials such as conventional cotton to protect from molds and insects and to increase yields. Chemicals are also needed to process fibers into yarns and yarns into fabric. It is also needed for dyes, surface treatments, coatings, application of water and stain repellents. Workers handling the chemical stages of the supply chain are often exposed to health risks they are not aware of. Some of the chemicals are carcinogenic, mutagenic and endocrine-disrupting, and the workers' conditions are often without sufficient health and safety measures. Despite improvements, the use of hazardous chemicals is still a widespread practice among world-leading brands. In addition, chemicals often remain in textiles and their gradual release in the use stage poses additional risks to human and environmental health.
Dead stock is also know as dead inventory and obsolete inventory, and refers to items that aren't sold/expected to be sold. Dead stock include damaged items, incorrect deliveries, leftover products, or simply be surplus fabrics from factories and mills that are discarded because brands on longer need them.
Decarbonization is a process of reducing the individual, organizational, national, and global carbon footprint.
Denim, a sturdy cotton fabric recognized for its durability and versatility, has become a staple in fashion. It was originally popularized as durable workwear, but has evolved into a global fashion phenomenon, with various washes, finishes, and styles. The production of denim typically involves several stages: cotton cultivation, spinning, bleaching and dyeing, weaving and finishing processes such as distressing, sandblasting and stonewashing, which all pose health hazards to workers and reduce garment durability. The denim industry also faces environmental challenges due to water-intensive dyeing processes and the discharge of pollutants. Sustainable practices, such as organic cotton cultivation, water-efficient dyeing methods, and circular design principles, are being embraced to create a more responsible denim production process.
Design in the fashion industry is the creative process of conceptualizing clothing, footwear and accessories. It’s not only about the look of the products, but also the functionality. Fashion designers play an important role in shaping industry trends by making their visions a reality into marketable pieces that reflect personal expressions of style.
When designing fashion items social, environmental, cultural, economic and aesthetics are taken into consideration. Designers have more than ever a responsibility in understanding the dimensions of sustainability and in terms of taking all stages beyond the point of sale into account - this means repairs, disassembly and end of lift.
Design for disassembly
How a product ends its life is just as important as how it lives its life, and this all depends on how the product is designed. Products can be designed for disassembly, meaning that brands design with a concern about how a product and its components can be reused, recycled or upcycled at the end of life.
Distressing is a design technique that involves intentionally creating a worn, aged, or weathered look. It often gives clothes a vintage or lived-in aesthetic. There are multiple ways to create a distressed look, such as sanding, scraping, ripping, or fading.
Downcycling is a form of recycling that breaks down old products into new materials. The resulting product when downcycling is of lower quality than the original item.
A common example of the downcycling process is transforming plastic bottles into carpeting or car parts.
By keeping waste materials out of landfills or incinerators, downcycling can help reduce the negative impacts of waste disposal on the environment. However, we cannot consider downcycling as a replacement for more sustainable strategies like closed-loop recycling or upcycling.
You can use dyeing to give yarns, fabrics, and clothes some color. Materials like polymeric resin, binders, plasticizers, and surfactants help the material soak up the color and stick to it. However, some dyes can contain heavy metals and nasty chemicals, so it's better to go with natural dye options.
Econyl® is recycled nylon made from waste such as fishing nets, fabric scraps and industrial waste from oceans and landfills.
End of life
Right now most of the fashion industry operates on a take-make-use-dispose model, but many brands have taken action into closing the loop with a holistic approach that considers what happens to products at the end of their first, second and third lives. This approach is integrated throughout the supply-and value chain to help and educate consumers in how to extend the lifetime of their clothing through repairs, alterations, take back schemes, re-sale, sharing, reuse and repurpose options.
Environmental footprints (also called ecological footprints) are the environmental resources that a population consumes.
Fast Fashion is an approach to fashion production, marketing and consumption relying on inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. This often leads to fast discarding of items and results in high social and environmental costs throughout the supply- and value chain, and fashion fashion has been associated with overproduction, waste and deplorable working conditions.
Faux fur is a term used to describe synthetic fabric that's been created to imitate the look and feel of animal derived fur. It's often used interchangeably with fake fur. Most faux furs are made of synthetic fibers namely acrylic or polyester, but alternatives such as bio-based plastics and recycled polyester are emerging.
Fur is an animal derived material made from skins of animals with thick growth of hair such as foxes, sheep, mink, rabbits, beavers, seals, bears and other exotic species. Animal materials are natural fibers and biodebradable unless heavily treated with chemicals. Fur can also have a higher environmental impact than leather, as it is rarely a by-product of the meat industry, such as most leather is.
Fur is obtained by skinning an animal for a pelt where hair is left attached after processing. Producing fur raises important ethical questions and serious concerns about the welfare of the animals, including inhumane slaughter, trapping and farming methods, as well as mass slaughtering of endangered and exotic species.
Genetically modified organisms (GMO)
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an animal, plant, or microorganism whose DNA has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. An example includes genetically modified cotton, also known as biotech or Bt cotton.
The aim of introducing Bt cotton (around 1995) was to reduce the amount of insecticide needed in farming cotton. Today, most cotton is grown in China, India and the US and uses Bt technology. Estimates of Bt cotton adoption vary from country to country and state to state, but at least 75% of cotton grown in China, India and the US is Bt cotton.
Genetically modified cotton seeds would include Bt seeds which incorporate genes from a common soil bacterium called Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) to strengthen the crop against pests such as bollworm. There are two variants of The Bt cotton. The first variant of Bt cotton is modified so that it will kill all insects. The second variant is made to be resistant against herbicides, so that this herbicide is used to kill all weed and surrounding plants except for the GMO cotton plant.
The genetically modified cotton is known to produce higher yields in comparison to conventional cotton, and it also circumvents the need for using fertilizers and pesticides. While the benefits of using genetically modified cotton include more efficient growing and reduced need for agricultural chemicals, there are dark sides to GMO cotton. There are still used toxic chemicals that are harmful to our health, GMOs support an unsustainable cotton production and resists the production of organic cotton and genetically modified crops have been criticized for their potential environmental impacts such as building pest tolerance to resistant strains, potential persistence in the environment, and possible transfer of modified genes to other crops.
Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS)
GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is a globally recognized standard for organic fibers, including independent certification of the entire supply chain. In other words, GOTS is your guarantee that a piece of fabric is made under proper working conditions, is free from harmful chemicals and is produced organically from harvest to final product (from raw materials to processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading and distribution)
Global Recycle Standard (GRS)
The GRS (Global Recycle Standard) is an international, voluntary standard that set requirements for third-party certification of recycled input and chain of custody. The goal is to increase the use of recycled materials and it includes criteria for social and environmental processing requirements and chemical restrictions. This certification verifies the volume of recycled material in a final product.
Greenwashing is a marketing strategy used to take advantage of the consumers interest in the environmental issues, and it misleads consumers into thinking that they buy more consciously and support better causes. Companies using such a strategy create a favorable image without disclosing the full picture. For instance when advertising products as sustainable or green when only a fraction is taken into account.
Hazardous chemicals are chemicals that are known to pose serious hazards to human and environmental health, and we are exposed to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors on a daily basis from clothing items (and also from cleaning products, perfume and personal care). This is not a small problem, as clothing manufacturers coat their products in seriously toxic chemicals at several different stages, from coloring fabrics to finishing pieces.
These chemicals may include, but are not limited to: Glyphosate (found in Bt cotton and is linked to cancer), chlorine bleach (found in natural fibers/cotton processing like denim and can cause asthma and respiratory reactions), formaldehyde (found in any fabrics that has been dyed or printed and can be carcinogenic), VOCS (solvents used in all parts of textile supply chain, particularly for printing, and is toxic for the reproduction and developmental system) and heavy metals (that can cause DNA/reproductive issues, environmental damage etc.).
Incineration is high-temperature destruction of waste.
It is a small fraction of used clothes that gets reused or recycled globally, and a global average of approximately 75% of used clothes end up either in landfill or are incinerated.
Climate changing emissions will have already been generated when the products were created and more CO2 will be produced when they are burnt. While incineration is relatively preferred compared to landfilling, as it recovers some energy from the product and reduces the volume of waste in landfills, it also releases dangerous levels of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and further increases the carbon footprint of fashion products. Incineration of clothes made from synthetic fibers may release plastic microfibers into the atmosphere.
Looking at the waste hierarchy (see under W) it suggests redesigning, reusing and recycling long before incineration.
A living wage is the minimum wage income necessary for workers to meet their basic needs and live a decent life. It's different from the legal minimum wage which is usually way below the living wage.
The UN recognizes a living wage as a human right, yet the current reality means millions of garment workers are systematically exploited as a source of cheap labor. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clearly state the role and responsibilities of businesses to respect the human right to fair wages. This responsibility exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfill their own human rights obligations.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastics, usually smaller than 5mm. Microplastics in the fashion industry come from textiles such as polyester, nylon, polyamide and acrylic, and these materials are very commonly used in clothes. Microplastic are growingly found in the environment, including the sea, in food and in drinking water. This is mainly as a result of pollution from washing synthetic clothing and the decomposition of plastic packaging waste. Globally, between 200,000 and 500,000 tonnes of synthetic fibers from textiles are released into the marine environment each year and the washing of synthetic fibers causes up to 35% of all plastic microfibre pollution in the oceans.
Once the microplastics are in the environment, they do not biodegrade and tend to accumulate - unless they are specifically designed to biodegrade in the open environment.
References: 3, 11, 12, 15
OEKO-TEX is a partnership of 18 separate research and testing institutions specializing in textiles and leather. OEKO-TEX has 6 different certifications (STANDARD 100, MADE IN GREEN, LEATHER STANDARD, STeP, DETOX TO ZERO, ECO PASSPORT) with the STANDARD 100 being the base certification. It includes how the fabric is processed, counting along with dyes and finishes, and the textiles and fabrics are certified free of harmful chemicals and are safe for human use. However, fabric certified as Oeko-Tex Standard 100 does not mean the same as organic.
STANDARD 100 draws on a precautionary principle, meaning that its limits can be stricter than the values required by national and international legislation. The criteria for certification are updated annually to reflect new knowledge or legal requirements.
References: 13, 14
Polyester is a synthetic fiber. It is a low-cost fiber, readily available, and durable. It also has technical performance properties that cannot be replicated using natural materials only. Due to these, among other reasons, polyester was the single most popular fiber worldwide in 2020 (52 per cent). However, polyester is made from oil, it is energy intensive, and its sheer quantity contributes significantly to today’s global waste problem. In addition, polyester can end up in the natural environment as “microfibers” or “microplastics” that can have high risk to human and marine health (See M for microplastics).
References: 15, 16
Recyclability refers to the potential of a material or an item to be suitable for recycling. This generally requires that the material or item is of a single fiber or fiber type, such as polyester, nylon, wool, cotton, hemp, linen, viscose, lyocell and modal.
Sourcing recycled materials helps to minimize the use of new virgin materials. But it is still relatively rare to find garments with 100% recycled materials. By using recycled materials, scarce resources (including water and energy) can be saved, however, textile to textile recycling includes many technological challenges and they are often recycled manually by the shredding process. This results in low quality fibers, and most products are therefore blended with virgin fibers to balance the quality of the final product.
Recycled plastic, rPET, is the bottle to textile recycling. Virtually all rPET used in clothing comes from post-consumer PET water bottles, which is versatile, durable and cheap to use for brands compared to textile-to-textile recycling.
References: 3, 15
Recycling is a process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and end up in landfills and incinerators, and instead regenerating the materials for new use.
References: 3, 15
Re-establishment of forests through planting and/or deliberate seeding on land classified as forest.
Products that are rented out can help to reduce the consumption of new. This is an emerging business model where we share goods instead of having individual ownerships. Rental aligns with one of the main principles in the circular economy, as rental increases the use of items, delay their disposal in landfills and it extends the products life time.
Repair is when an item is damaged and restored to be used and enjoyed again. Via timely maintenance, service and repair it is possible to extend the product's lifetime substantially.
References: 3, 15
Reuse of items encourages long lasting relationships through active use, taking good care of it, repairing and altering it, can give unused clothing a new life. Reuse also covers swapping with family/friends and the local community, upcycling, rental or donating.
References: 3, 15
Sustainable fashion refers to a more environmentally-friendly approach to designing, manufacturing, communicating, consuming and enjoying fashion, making sure we cause minimal to no harm to our planet and our people. Sustainable fashion also focuses on extending the life of clothes, using recycled materials and recycling in general, innovation in products and materials and efficiency in using resources. Even though the word “sustainable fashion” has become mainstream there is still a long way to go in terms of overconsumption, overproduction and disposal of fashion items that keeps increasing, and we need to relearn how to enjoy and give value to fashion.
Being transparent in the fashion industry means to publish all information about every actor involved from start to finish - from the fields to the store shelves. Transparency is a practice where companies take responsibility for the entire supply chain, act on their accountability and openly share information about how, where and by whom a product was made.
Upcycling involves the recycling of raw materials. The materials are recycled without being degraded and add value through a new function. It can include pre-consumer waste materials such as leather or polyester, or repurposing older clothing into new items of better quality
Upcycling adds value and potentially helps to extend the number of times a product can be reused. The materials that are upcycled are often seen as waste somewhere before they get into the right hands. It's not a new concept, although we've been hearing about it more and more. Upcycling is excellent because it removes waste from the system; it requires less energy than recycling, and so has a better environmental impact. Plus it encourages creativity and innovation.
Value chain refers to activities that take place in different stages from the point of product design to its delivery to the end customer and the product's end of life. Value chain and supply chain are closely related, yet there is a subtle difference between them and they move in opposite directions. The value chain includes processes such as design, production and marketing of a product, whereas the term supply chain puts emphasis on the transformation of raw materials into products, through manufacturing and distribution.
Water scarcity refers to the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage, including drinking water, within a region for environmental and human needs.
The textile industry is the third largest user of global freshwater resources. In many areas, this leads to water scarcity, especially in large cotton-producing countries, such as India and China, which is alarming as these regions already supper from scarce water resources.
Water scarcity is a critical concern as it is a key driver of migration, because of its impact on health and livelihoods as well as the risks the conflicts trigger, and the 2022 Global Risks report predicts that climate change and the associated events - including fires, floods and droughts - could displace more than 200 million people by 2050.
Referencens: 15, 17, 18