Sustainable Fashion Glossary

Whether you’re new to the world of sustainable fashion or not, the terminology can often feel confusing.

For example, what is the difference between vegan and cruelty-free, or between sustainable and ethical?

There’s no need to worry as this handy sustainable fashion glossary is here to help you navigate this new world. This page will constantly be updated so make sure you keep checking back!


Sustainable Fashion Glossary



All materials will breakdown eventually. However, some may take thousands of years and can release harmful chemicals during that process. If an item is biodegradable then it can decompose naturally in the environment, avoiding pollution and avoiding causing any harm. Some brands are using biodegradable packaging which is one of the most eco-friendly options.


Carbon neutral / carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting occurs when a person or company invests in environmental measures to balance out their greenhouse gas emissions. This is done with the aim of becoming carbon neutral. Some choose to do this by donating a percentage of sales to plant trees or spend on carbon neutral shipping. It is important to note that carbon offsetting isn’t as easy as it sounds and will not miraculously solve climate change.


Circular fashion / circular economy

Circular fashion is about moving away from taking fabric, making and item and then throwing it away. It is about designing and producing items such as clothes, shoes and accessories with the intention that they will be used and circulated for as long as possible.



This links closely with vegan. It generally refers to cosmetics that have not been tested on animals. A well-known cruelty free brand in this sphere would have to be Lush. However, it should be noted that just because a product is marked cruelty-free, it doesn’t always mean that it is vegan.



Diversity and inclusivity focus on everything from the models that are used in an advertising campaign to the people holding leadership positions. When it comes to brands it is important that they are inclusive in their sizing, have racially diverse employees and support LGTBQIA+. It has been shown that companies with greater diversity tend to be more sustainable with better environmental practices.


Ethical fashion

You will often see ethical fashion used interchangeably with sustainable fashion. Generally speaking ethical fashion concentrates on the social impact the fashion industry has. This can include a range of issues like living wage, animal welfare, working conditions, fair trade and the environment.


Fast fashion

Fast fashion is cheaply made, mass produced clothing made at a fast rate to meet consumer demand. As trends are now fast moving the conveyor belt to create these clothes has to move at an increasing speed. Due to the poor quality and throwaway mentally these clothes are discarded after only a few wears. Fast fashion relies on the fact that you have to have the latest looks while they’re ‘hot’. Because of this overproduction and overconsumption, fashion is now the second largest polluter in the world.



Greenwashing is used as a marketing tactic to give the impression that a brand undertakes activities and has policies in place that are environmentally friendly when this is far from the truth. As consumers become more aware of the implications their buying habits have on the environment there is a greater demand for sustainable clothing and these brands are trying to benefit from that.

There is a post up on greenwashing if you would like to learn about it in more detail.


Living wage

Living wage is the bare minimum that is required for workers to be able to live a reasonable life. This is not to be confused with the legal minimum wage which tends to be a lot lower than the living wage.



Microplastics and microfibres are tiny pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5mm.

Microplastics from synthetic clothes are responsible for over one-third of the microplastics polluting rivers and oceans.



Minimalism is about stripping back all of the things in your life that you don’t need. Marie Kondo’s KonMarie method centres around minimalism and only keeping the thing in your life that ‘spark joy’. When it comes to fashion, a capsule wardrobe would be an example of minimalism.

I used the The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo to make my wardrobe spark joy.



Organic refers to raw materials that have not been genetically modified (GM). They have been grown without the use of chemical pesticides and insecticides.

There has been an increase in the use of organic cotton, but it’s production still isn’t ideal. There are organisations such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) which highlight certified organic clothes.


Rana Plaza

In 2013, the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers. This was one of the worst industrial disasters in history and it highlighted the practices of fast fashion brands.



Most households in the UK will recycle bottles, paper and plastic. Recycling is basically converting something no longer needed into something new.

Within the fashion industry some brands have started to incorporate recycled plastics into their clothes. For example, there are active wear brands who make leggings out of plastic bottles.



Second-hand is quite self-explanatory. It refers to clothes have been pre-owned have either been donated or sold on. It is one of the most sustainable options when it comes to buying clothes as existing items are giving a new lease of life that prevents them ending up in landfill.

The charity Oxfam organised an initiative called Second Hand September to encourage people to avoid buying brand new clothing for the 30 days of September. The aim is the raise awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry.


Slow fashion

This term was coined by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and it is basically the opposite of fast fashion.

The movement centres around the practices and resources that are needed to make clothes in a sustainable way. It also means consuming less and buying better quality pieces when you do buy so that items last longer. People, animals and the environment should also be fairly treated.

I also have a post up that goes into slow fashion in more detail.


Sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is all about producing clothes, shoes and accessories in an environmentally conscious manner. This means avoiding depleting natural resources and exploiting people, not just now but also looking into the future. The fashion industry should not just do good, but also not negatively impact people, animals or the planet.



When it comes to traceability within a company, it means being able to follow the supply chain from beginning to end. Traceability is key to transparency. A brand cannot be transparent if it cannot trace each component of production.



Being transparent means that a brand publicly shares all of the information concerning where products are made, and by whom. This information should be readily available and show everything that is involved in production. This transparency lets consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.



Upcycling is the practice of turning something that was no longer wanted, into something that can continue to be used. This could be turning curtains into clothing. Upcycling has a better environmental impact that recycling, and it requires less energy.



Vegan is a term that refers to products that have been made without using any animal products. With clothing this would mean that an item does not contain any leather, wool, silk, cashmere and more.