Sustainable Fashion Glossary

Model wearing taupe blazer and trouser standing on a log by the beach


Fast fashion refers to a business model that aims to bring designs quickly to the market. It involves using cost-cutting measures to mass manufacture clothes with short lifespans and low price points.

The fast fashion model is based on a trend-driven, disposable approach to fashion which is inherently unsustainable. It is associated with overconsumption, excessive waste, unethical labour and pollution.

Fast fashion took off in the 90s when consumer demand increased and is still the business model used today by global fashion retailers such as Zara, H&M, Topshop, Forever 21, Boohoo, Uniqlo and Shein.

Slow fashion refers to designing and producing fashion at a slower pace, focusing on the quality and longevity of a garment. The term is used to describe a more mindful approach to making clothes that distinctly opposes fast fashion. 

Slow fashion commonly refers to a set of principles, including (but not limited to) local manufacturing, small batch production, ethical labour and quality craftsmanship.

Read more about Fast vs. Slow Fashion.

Ethical fashion can be interpreted in various ways depending on an individual’s personal beliefs. For example, ethical fashion may refer to clothes that were made without harming animals or using animal materials.

Generally, when ethics are discussed within the context of fashion, it refers to how the garment was made, including the method of sourcing materials and the welfare of the workers in the supply chain. Ultimately, ethical fashion is concerned with treating people and animals with dignity and respect.

Sustainable fashion is an umbrella term that encompasses both slow fashion and ethical fashion. It refers to a big picture approach that considers the direct and long-term impacts of fashion on people, the natural environment and the economy. 

Sustainable fashion commonly refers to utilising materials and processes that have a low impact on the environment. However, ideally, a sustainable fashion brand should be both socially and environmentally responsible. This means establishing robust supply chains, supporting local economies, creating meaningful customer experiences, promoting inclusivity and encouraging responsible consumption.

Transparency refers to openly disclosing information about where products come from, how they have been made, who made them and what their impact is on people and the planet. Currently, there are no protocols for sustainability in fashion which is why transparency is an essential tool for change. 

Transparency serves two important purposes. Firstly, it enables consumers to make an informed choice when purchasing a product. Secondly, when businesses are transparent, they are open to criticism which means they can be held accountable.

A fashion brand can choose to be transparent in various ways. For example, by disclosing the names of their suppliers or breaking down their pricing structures. At the highest level, a business can map out their supply chain to show every person, material and process involved in bringing their products to market.

Circularity (also known as "circular economy") refers to a model of design, production and consumption in which raw materials, components and products remain circulating in the economy for as long as possible.

In the context of fashion, circularity commonly refers to extending the life of a garment through repair, reuse and recycling. At the highest level, circularity means designing a garment with its end-of-life in mind such that all of its components are eventually reused or recycled, and nothing is disposed.

Circularity contrasts with a linear economy, in which raw materials are extracted to make a product and then disposed. The phrase "closing the loop" refers to changing the fashion economy from a linear model to a circular one.

Traceability is the ability to trace the whole lifecycle of a product from its raw material to production and consumption. Traceability provides information about where the material is sourced and the impact of the product on people and the environment. Traceability is an important tool in establishing a transparent supply chain.


Natural fibres are fibres that are made from natural materials that come from plants, animals, or minerals. The raw, natural materials are spun into threads and yarns that are then woven or knit into fabrics. These include linen, cotton, silk and wool. Natural fibres are generally more durable, breathable, hypoallergenic and environmentally friendly. 

Synthetic fibres are man-made fibres usually made from polymers found in fossil fuels and the by-products of petroleum. These include nylon, polyester and acrylics.

Semi-synthetic fibres are derived from raw materials with a naturally occurring long-chain polymer structure. These materials are modified and partially degraded by chemical processes into a fibre. Most semi-synthetic fibres are cellulose regenerated fibres such as viscose, rayon, and their sustainable alternatives, cupro, lyocell and modal.

Recycled fabrics and trims are made from recycled textiles and materials that are sorted, broken down and reused for different end uses. By using fabrics and trims made from recycled textiles and materials, we are able to give these materials new life and help divert them from landfill.

Deadstock fabrics are excess fabrics in the fashion industry that are left over from fashion houses who overestimated their needs. By utilising deadstock, we can reduce the need to extract raw materials to produce new fabric, lessening our overall impact on the environment.

Organic fabrics are spun from fibres that are grown using methods and materials which have a low impact on the environment. Organic fibres are usually grown from non-genetically modified plants, with little to no use of synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides or other substances that are harmful to human health or the environment. In order to guarantee that a fibre is organic, it must be certified. 

A certification verifies the quality and safety of a product and its production process for human health and the environment. For example, a product can be certified organic, biodegradable, ethical, free of harmful substances etc. Certifications are awarded by independent organisations such as OEKO-TEX®, which conduct rigorous tests and audits against a measurable and reportable standard.

Recycling is the breaking down of existing materials for the purpose of re-using the material or creating a new product. For example, collecting and recycling used plastic water bottles to produce shampoo bottles. Upcycling, on the other hand, refers to modifying an existing product to give it a new life or another purpose (known as repurposing). An example of upcycling would be modifying a pair of old jeans into cut-off shorts.

Almost everything is biodegradable, even some plastics, as all materials break down eventually but some of them can take hundreds of years and release harmful chemicals and substances in the process. 

All compostable items are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable products are compostable. The main difference is that biodegradable products break down into a few natural elements such as carbon dioxide and water, while compostable products break down into an organic material called humus which provides a healthy soil environment for plant growth without leaving behind toxic residue.


OEKO-TEX® is a global association of independent research and testing institutes for product safety and sustainable production in the textile industry. The STANDARD 100 label verifies that a product has been tested free of harmful substances. The tests are conducted by independent OEKO-TEX® partner institutes for numerous regulated and non-regulated substances which may be harmful to human health. The standard has 4 different product classes, Product Class 1 having the strictest requirements.

MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® certifies that a textile has been manufactured in environmentally friendly facilities under safe and socially responsible working conditions. Products that bear the MADE IN GREEN label must also be tested for harmful substances according to OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100.

The Global Recycled Standard is developed by Textile Exchange, a global non-profit organisation that sets industry standards for textiles. The GRS certifies the processing, manufacturing and trading of textiles made with at least 20% recycled content. The standard addresses supply chain traceability, chemical content, environmental impact and social responsibility. 

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organisation that sets rigorous standards for the socially and environmentally responsible management of the world's forests. 

The FSC certification verifies that the paper or wood content in a product can be traced from forests that are responsibly managed. Products that bear the FSC Recycled label have been certified as being made from 100% recycled content (either post-consumer or pre-consumer reclaimed materials).