Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary

Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary

The History of the T-Shirt Reading Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary 13 minutes

As sustainable fashion has increased in popularity, related jargon has increased significantly. Sometimes, it is helpful to have a handy glossary to help you get to the definitions of key terms as well as the context of the term.

Artisanal

Pertains to products that are crafted by skilled artisans using traditional methods, often supporting local communities and preserving cultural heritage. An example may be khadi, a hand-spun and hand-woven cotton fabric from India. Mahatma Gandhi started a movement for khadi as a relief programme for the poor masses living in India's villages.

B Corporation (B Corp)

A certification for businesses that meet high standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to stakeholders and not just shareholders. The development of the standards for B Corp Certification are overseen by B Lab's independent Standards Advisory Council (B Lab is a nonprofit network).

Biodegradable

Refers to materials that can break down and return to nature, decomposing naturally without causing harm to the environment. Not all fibres are biodegradable which is why sending used clothing to landfill can be harmful. Organic cotton, which is what Pomp Clothing uses, is an example of a biodegradable fabric. 

Capsule Wardrobe

A small collection of versatile clothing items that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. This means that you won’t need to buy as many clothes and the clothes that you have will last longer (they’ll go better with other clothes you have and therefore less likely to be thrown away). This is one effective way of putting minimalism and/or slow fashion into practice.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

A colourless, odourless gas produced by burning carbon and organic compounds and by breathing. It is naturally present in air (about 0.03 percent) and is absorbed by plants in photosynthesis. In the context of sustainable fashion, carbon dioxide is significant due to its role as a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. The fashion industry contributes to CO2 emissions through various processes such as manufacturing, transportation, and the decomposition of waste in landfills. Efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in fashion include adopting energy-efficient practices, using renewable energy sources, and enhancing the overall sustainability of supply chains.

Carbon Neutral

This is the status of achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing emitted carbon with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.

Carbon Offset

A reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Examples could include reforestation or building renewable energy solutions.

Carbon Offset Definition | Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary
Carbon Sequestration

The process of storing carbon in a carbon pool. This happens via a biologic process (part of the natural carbon cycle) or a geologic process (storing carbon dioxide (CO2) in underground geologic formations).

Circular Economy

An economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources, by designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. 

Circular Fashion

Relates to fashion created using the principles of a circular economy. Two of the most common circular fashion examples are upcycling and closed-loop production. You can learn more about circular fashion here and you can find the best circular fashion brands here

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

A management concept where companies are not simply guided by maximising profit. In addition, they seek to integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.

Cruelty-Free

Products or processes that do not involve experimentation on animals, especially fashion, cosmetics and skincare. A good example is Ahimsa Silk.

Downcycle

The process of recycling a material in such a way that the resulting product is of lower quality and functionality than the original. You can learn more about downcycling in the context of fashion here.

Elastane

A synthetic fibre known for its elasticity. This means that it is commonly used in stretchy clothing such as sportswear. As elastane is not biodegradable and cannot be recycled easily, it ends up in landfills and causes harm.

ESG

Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments. You might think that this is about objectively measuring which businesses operate in an ethical way. Upon further investigation, one might conclude that the way the concept is practised is not in line with that interpretation.

ESG Definition | Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary POMP
Ethical Fashion

An approach to the design, sourcing, and manufacture of clothing which maximises benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment as well workers involved in the entire supply chain.

Fair Trade

A trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers.

Fast Fashion

A term used to describe cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments (with significant synthetic materials usage) in high street stores at breakneck speed. This is often cited as an example of Linear Fashion. 

Fossil Fuels

Natural fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, formed from the remains of living organisms that can be burned to produce energy but result in carbon emissions.

Fossil Fuels Definition | Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary
Greenwashing

Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. It can give the impression to potential customers that the organisation is doing more to protect the environment than it really is. In extreme cases, the cost of publicising “green” behaviours can exceed the actual investment in “green” actions.

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)

A worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. You can learn more about the standard here

Life Cycle Assessment

A technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life. This life cycle starts from raw material extraction through to materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, ending with disposal or recycling.

Linear Fashion

A traditional model of buying, wearing, and quickly discarding clothes, which contributes to high levels of waste and environmental strain. You can learn more about linear fashion here.

Living Wage

A wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. This includes the ability to afford sufficient shelter, food, and other basic necessities.

Microplastic

Extremely small pieces of plastic debris in the environment resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. Fashion with its use of synthetic materials is significant: some estimates suggest that clothing contributes to 9% of all microplastic loss to oceans.

Minimalism

A design or style movement in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect, especially in art, architecture, and fashion. This can be interpreted as simple designs from the perspective of fashion companies or simple lifestyles (with capsule wardrobes) from the perspective of fashion buyers. 

Net Zero

A state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere. Fast fashion is responsible for 2-8% of the world’s greenhouse gases. That’s more GHG emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)

A non-profit group that functions independently of any government, usually one whose purpose is to address a social or political issue. NGOs play an important role in sustainable fashion by campaigning for climate action as well as other related issues such as labour rights relating to getting a Living Wage and workplace safety standards. 

OEKO-TEX Standard 100

A worldwide consistent, independent testing and certification system for textile products that have passed safety tests for the presence of harmful substances. The standards tests from yarn to finished product and tests against a list of over 1000 substances. You can learn more about certifications here

Organic

Materials and fibres grown without the use of toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilisers in systems that promote biodiversity and soil health. This can also apply to food.

There are widely accepted certifications that verify that products are made from materials such as organic cotton. You can learn more about these certifications here

Organic Definition | Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary
Polyester

A synthetic fibre derived from petroleum-based products, widely used in the fashion industry due to its durability, resistance to shrinking and stretching, and quick drying properties. While polyester is inexpensive and versatile, it is also non-biodegradable and its production is energy-intensive, releasing significant amounts of CO2 and other pollutants. Furthermore, washing polyester garments can release microplastics into waterways, contributing to environmental pollution. Sustainable fashion advocates often encourage the reduction of polyester use, recycling of polyester fabrics, and innovations such as developing biodegradable polyester alternatives to minimise environmental impact. 

Pollution

The introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat, or light. 

Recycle

The process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects, which can prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, and decrease air and water pollution. You can learn more about recycling in the context of fashion here

Renewable Energy

Energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited. Renewable resources are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time. 

Resale

The act of selling previously owned clothing and accessories. In the context of sustainable fashion, resale is a significant practice as it extends the life cycle of garments, reduces waste, and minimises the demand for new resource-intensive production. This approach not only conserves natural resources but also offers an affordable way for consumers to access quality fashion items. Resale markets, both online and in physical stores, have grown substantially, reflecting a shift towards more circular fashion practices where reuse is prioritised over disposal.

SA8000

A social certification standard for factories and organisations across the globe. It encourages organisations to develop, maintain, and apply socially acceptable practices in the workplace.

SA8000 Definition | Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary
Secondhand

Previously owned items, including clothing, that are sold or given away, often contributing to recycling and sustainability.

Scope 1/2/3 Carbon Emissions

Scope 1, 2 and 3 is a way of categorising the different kinds of carbon emissions a company creates in its own operations, and in its wider value chain.

Scope 1: Emissions from direct operations such as running boilers to heat buildings where a company's employees work.

Scope 2: Indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used by the organisation. 

Scope 3: All other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain such as those that relate to products bought from suppliers and emissions from when customers use the company’s own products. Scope 3 emissions are often the largest bucket out of the three.

Slow Fashion

A movement focusing on sustainability and advocating for manufacturing that respects people, environment, and animals. Contrary to industrial fashion practices, it involves local artisans and the use of eco-friendly materials.

Supply Chain

The entire process of making and selling commercial goods, from the supply of raw materials and manufacture of the goods through to their distribution and sale.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. These goals are broad in scope and interdependent, aimed at promoting a more sustainable future for all. SDG 12 relates to sustainable consumption and production and therefore most closely relates to the aims of sustainable fashion. There are indeed other related goals such as SDG 13 which is about taking urgent action to combat climate change.

Sustainable Fashion

A movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. 

Synthetic

Fibres created through chemical synthesis as opposed to natural fibres that come from living sources (plants, animals). Includes materials like nylon and polyester. 

Traceability

The ability to identify and trace the history, distribution, location, and application of products, parts, and materials, to ensure the reliability of sustainability claims in the areas of human rights, environmental impact, and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Upcycle

The process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value. You can learn more about upcycling in the context of fashion here.

Vegan

A term describing products that are made without the use of any animal products or by-products, which can include clothing, shoes, and accessories as well as its most widely-known usage: vegan food.

Vegan Definition | Sustainable Fashion Terms Glossary
Wardrobe Audit

The process of carefully reviewing one's wardrobe to assess how likely it is you will wear each item based on its fit and how it can pair with other items. Those that you are unlikely to rewear can be put up for resale, donated or recycled. 

Zero Waste

A philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. No trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. For an individual, this can mean buying from circular economy companies. You can also learn more about Zero Waste here.

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