One of the best ways to start your sustainable and ethical fashion journey is to learn the terminology and the basic definitions. The cnscs_ glossary is an ever-growing list of terms that you can reference back to when you need to, while you are on your journey.
We hope that these definitions help you make sense of conversations and discussions around these themes, and help you understand what we mean when we use certain terms in articles to come.
1. Fast Fashion
“Fast fashion” describes the rapid reproduction of runway trends for mass consumption. Fast fashion brands design new looks, weekly, to create a demand for their clothes by making consumers feel untrendy. The fast fashion industry is harmful to our environment and people.
Fast fashion is damaging because it does not consider planetary boundaries and human equality. This is because more products need to be produced at faster rates, to keep consumers returning to buy clothing more often. This accelerates the climate crisis and increases water scarcity, pollution from hazardous chemicals, negatively impacts biodiversity and decreases the Earth’s limited resources. Also, the fast fashion industry allows for the continuation of modern-day slavery. Because in order to create clothing at the lowest possible cost, garment workers have to work for very little pay, in unsafe conditions, and often many of their human rights are violated.
Not only do fast fashion brands exploit people in their supply chain, but they have stolen ideas from other designers, smaller brands and artists.
Due to how fast clothing is produced in the fast fashion business model, fast fashion is inherently unsustainable.
2. Slow Fashion
“Slow fashion” is the opposite of fast fashion. Slow fashion disagrees with many aspects of fast fashion. It aims to slow down the process of garment creation, in order to lessen the impact that the fashion industry has on the environment and the lives of people. More attention is paid to the processes and materials used to make the garment. Slow fashion usually includes brands being both ethical and sustainable/low-impact.
3. Ethical Fashion
“Ethical fashion” is a term used to describe the treatment of people in the garment creation process. Ethical fashion values mainly garment workers, but increasingly focuses on people in the supply chain. It insists that workers be paid a living wage, be treated with respect, work in safe and non-exploitative spaces, and does not compromise the wellbeing of workers and their communities.
We believe that ethical fashion should go beyond the respectful treatment of people in the supply chain. Being an ethical brand should include properly researching and crediting ideas and origins of garments – so, avoiding cultural appropriation – and being diverse in the way the brand is represented. This would include expanding their size range, when possible. Some ethical brands try to incorporate these aspects of ethics, but others fall short.
4. Sustainable Fashion
“Sustainable fashion” refers to fashion that is made with as little negative impact on the planet, as possible. Sustainable fashion is a term that is used to describe production processes that are aware of the negative environmental effects of fashion. Sustainable fashion aims to steer clear of those negative impacts by using ethically and sustainably sourced natural or recycled fibres, minimising water usage, avoiding harmful chemicals, slowing down the rate of production and incorporating the principles of a circular economy.
We believe that you can’t truly be sustainable if you are not ethical too.
Because of the capitalist system we live in, not only has “sustainable” become a buzzword, but it’s almost impossible for a brand to truly be sustainable. In reaction to this, we have seen some brands call themselves low-impact.
“Low-impact” describes a business, brand, lifestyle or product that tries its best to have as minimal an impact on the planet, and on people, as possible.
6. Conscious Consumerism
Being a conscious consumer means that you purchase with thought and consideration when it is accessible to you. Conscious consumers are aware of the environmental and social impacts of their buying habits and try to make choices with the lowest negative impact. Conscious consumerism is a mind-set that focuses on empowering small businesses, making eco-friendly and ethical choices, and staying educated about how your consumption affects the world around you – recognise that your money is your vote.
“Greenwashing” refers to the use of imagery, colours and language that is usually linked to sustainable products, in order to promote products that are not, necessarily, sustainable. It is a marketing strategy aimed at drawing in eco-conscious consumers and making them believe that they are buying into an eco-friendly product.
8. Capsule Wardrobe
A “capsule wardrobe” refers to a relatively limited collection of garments that can be mixed and matched, and worn either in a season or across seasons. Capsule items are usually classic and remain stylish, despite changes in trends. There are different types of capsule wardrobe methods and challenges. For example, the 10×10 challenge, which is ten items of clothing styled for ten days.
Thrifting refers to buying a second-hand garment/items, usually from a shop or market.
“Pre-loved” is generally used as a synonym for “second hand”. It refers to something that has been owned by someone else before you come to own it. Think hand-me-downs, heirloom pieces, or when you “borrow” a garment from a loved one’s closet and it conveniently becomes your own.
11. Supply chain
A supply chain refers to all the resources, processes, businesses and individuals involved in the creation of a product, from the extraction of resources to the transportation of the product to the consumer. Value is added at each step of the supply chain.
12. Linear economy
A linear economy is the production model that lies at the core of our current capitalist economy. It is based on the take-make-waste approach and aims to maximise profits at all costs. This production model creates a huge amount of waste and is inherently unsustainable.
13. Circular economy
A circular production model aims to design out waste, which means that environmental impact is kept as low as possible.
In nature, nothing goes to waste. If you think about it, when a tree loses its leaves, they fall to the ground, biodegrade and create nutrients for the soil. So, this creates a closed-loop system. As Céline Semaan says, “circularity is the idea that everything you make returns to the Earth as either food or poison.”
If products are designed with circularity in mind, it means that they are able to be taken apart at the end of life and made into something new.
14. Life cycle
The life cycle of a garment is the entire journey of a garment from the extraction of raw materials, all the way until after the consumer has decided it is no longer of use to them, and it is either disposed of or recycled. A garment goes through many different stages in its life cycle, from raw material extraction, textile production, design, manufacturing, retail, to consumer use – and, finally, disposal or recycling.
Life cycle assessments are used to assess the environmental impact of the product, at each stage of its life cycle, in order to assess the product’s overall environmental impact. Conducting a life cycle assessment helps companies understand where they can work on minimising their impact.
15. End of life
End of life is the final stage of a product’s lifecycle. Designers and brands that care about working towards a more circular economy should be thinking about end of life, right from the beginning of a garment’s life cycle. This requires designers to think about whether a product can be disassembled, recycled, upcycled or down-cycled once it reaches its end of life.
In a linear economy model, there is no consideration for what might happen after the end of life, and how the end of life of one product could be the start of a new product. When we move towards a more circular economy, instead of disposing of garments, they will be reused and recycled – and then the life cycle begins again.
This refers to how easily the product can be repaired if it is damaged. If the garment can be easily repaired, this extends the lifespan of the garment, and means that the garment will have a lower overall impact, because it can be worn longer, if well looked after.
The more a garment is able to be mended or re-used, the longer its lifespan and the smaller its environmental impact.
Transparency refers to how much a brand discloses about their production practices and their supply chain. The more transparent a brand is the more informed choices a consumer can make. Transparency helps to build trust, because consumers can make informed decisions about what they are buying into.
However, transparency is not the same as sustainability.
Traceability goes hand-in-hand with transparency and refers to how much we know about where the raw materials that make up the garment come from.
19. Virgin materials
Virgin materials are materials that have not been used before to produce a garment. So, they have not been recycled, upcycled or down-cycled, but instead require resources to be extracted to create them.
Deadstock fabric refers to old fabric that has not been able to sell, because of small damages, the fabric did not turn out the way they wanted, or because a brand ordered too much fabric. Deadstock fabric can also be fabric that the brand just doesn’t want to use anymore.
There are pros and cons to using deadstock, but it’s not as sustainable as we may initially think. For example, Reformation uses deadstock fabric to create some of their garments, but they could not be further from being the sustainable fashion brand that they claim to be. Firstly, you can’t be a fast-fashion brand and claim to be sustainable – that’s a contradiction. Also, Reformation’s ethics are dismal. As we always say, you can’t have sustainability without ethics.
21. Pre-consumer textile waste
This kind of textile waste is waste that is generated before the garment reaches the consumer. Pre-consumer waste is often produced in the manufacturing process. For example, the textile scraps that are produced in garment factories, which are discarded, because they are seen as too small to be useful. Pre-consumer textile waste also includes garments with small defects that were disposed of, because they wouldn’t sell, as well as end-of-season stock that did not sell, because of over-production.
There are ways to recycle pre-consumer textile waste, which creates a more circular textile economy. Take a look at Rewoven to see how they are diverting pre-consumer textile waste from landfills.
22. Post-consumer textile waste
This kind of textile waste is waste that is generated after the consumer no longer wears the garment and disposes of it.
Take a look at The OR Foundation’s research-based video series, ‘Dead White Man’s Clothes’, to learn about the politics of textile waste, the global second-hand clothing trade, and where this textile waste actually ends up.
The process of using old materials or objects and giving them new life, by incorporating them into the design of a product or garment with a higher value than the repurposed item. A good example of this is the use of textile waste to create a new garment. It’s a good way to divert waste from the landfill and get creative. Selina Sanders creates beautiful upcycled pieces.
Recycling is the process of taking a product, at its end of life, and putting it through a process that turns it into a new product, or material, with a new function. Precious Plastic is an amazing open-source platform that educates on recycling and upcycling plastic.
Downcycling happens when an item is recycled, and the output material has a lower value or quality than the original item. A good example of this is the downcycling of textile waste to create stuffing for upholstery.
26. Mechanical textile recycling
In general, textile recycling is the process of deconstructing textiles and putting them through a process that turns them into a new textile. Textile recycling helps to divert textile waste from landfills, avoids the use of virgin fibres, and helps to create a more circular textile economy.
Mechanical recycling involves the manual shredding of textiles and pulling them apart into their fibres. From there, the fibres are generally combined with another kind of fibre, to strengthen them, before they are spun and woven into a new fabric.
Rewoven is a company that uses mechanical textile recycling to create recycled textiles from pre-consumer textile waste.
27. Chemical textile recycling
This is a new and innovative approach to textile recycling. Chemical recycling involves the use of chemical processes to separate the fibres of the textile waste, so they can be extracted, recovered and made into a new fabric.
Evrnu and Worn Again are examples of companies that use chemical textile recycling to create recycled fabrics.
Synthetic fibres that are found in our clothes are made from plastic. When we wash our clothes, tiny plastic fibres are shed from our garments, and these are called microfibres. Over 9 million tons of fibers are produced annually, 60% are synthetic and ∼25% are non-synthetic. This is a huge contributor to the pollution in our ocean basins. Because these plastic fibres are so small, our washing machines and water treatment systems are currently not able to filter them out, which means that they end up in our water systems, food systems, and eventually back in our bodies.
Give this article by good on you a read, if you want to learn a little bit more about microfibres.
If something is biodegradable, it means that (in the right conditions) it will naturally decompose and blend back into the earth. The quicker something is able to biodegrade, and release minimal toxins while doing so, the better.
But there is still a lot of research being done and debate around whether biodegradable plastic truly biodegrades and whether it is a more environmentally friendly option. So, the term “biodegradable” can be used as a greenwashing term and it is important for us to be critical, and ask questions, when we see brands using this term.
Sometimes the terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Compostable products are all biodegradable, but they require a composting environment in order to break down, and they often decompose faster and create nutrient-rich soil when they do decompose. So, compostable items are more environmentally friendly than biodegradable items, but they both require the right conditions to be able to decompose into the soil.
31. Waste management
Waste management is a strategy designed to deal with waste. It is structured in a hierarchy, starting with the most environmentally friendly options – waste reduction, re-use, recycling, recovery – and ending with the least environmentally friendly option, which is waste treatment and disposal.
32. Waste colonialism
This term is used to describe the process of countries in the global North disposing of hazardous by-products or dumping waste in countries in the global South, because it is an inexpensive way of getting rid of waste.
The term was coined at a United Nations Environmental Conference in 1989, when representatives from African countries raised concerns about the disposal of waste, from the global North, in their countries.
If you want to hear more about the politics of waste management and waste colonialism, you should listen to this Preloved Podcast, featuring The OR Foundation.
When we talk about low-impact living, we often talk about saving things from being sent to a landfill. A landfill is a large area of land where waste is dumped because we have no further use for it. Often, items in landfills still have life left in them, but because of our over-production and over-consumption, and the large, profit-driven companies that drive this, products end up in landfills.
According to the Ellen McArthur foundation, one garbage truck of textiles is dumped in a landfill, or incinerated, every second.
Because of the chemicals found in many of the products that are dumped in landfills, landfills release toxic chemicals into the soil and air, which end up in water systems, food systems, and have harmful effects on the environment, as well as human wellbeing. Landfills are especially harmful to communities living nearby to them. This is why landfills are the least sustainable waste management options.