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A Sustainable Fashion Glossary: From Deadstock to Greenwashing

In this article, Daisy Culleton offers simple explanations for all the latest sustainable fashion terminology to help you feel a little less confused.


A thrift store. Image Credits: Hugo Clément on Unsplash.


With the rapid growth of the sustainable fashion market in recent years, there has also been a subsequent rise in the terminology surrounding the matter. It would seem that everywhere you turn these days, someone is using fresh jargon to discuss sustainable fashion. The sheer quantity of sustainable fashion lingo in use currently, across both print and social media, can often leave you feeling as though you are navigating a maze. That’s why, in an effort to make the world of sustainable fashion as accessible as it should be, I have crafted a sustainable fashion glossary, which offers easy-to-understand explanations for all the latest buzzwords in sustainable fashion.


The Sustainable Fashion Glossary:


Circular Fashion is all about maximising the lifespan of a garment. The idea is that garments remain in circulation within our economic system for as long as possible. A circular approach to fashion involves producing clothing using high-quality natural materials, buying based on need not want, taking good care of your clothing, repairing if necessary, and eventually recycling or reusing the material in the manufacturing of new products. Big Sister Swap, the world’s only online personalised clothes-swapping service, is a great example of the circular fashion economy in action. 


Deadstock makes reference to garments or fabrics that companies have discontinued or left sitting around after miscalculating their needs. Many independent fashion brands such as Neomie, which is owned by influencers Olivia Grace Herring and Evie Clark, utilise deadstock materials to create their designs, in turn, this prevents the fabric from going to landfill.


Ethical Fashion refers to clothing which has been designed and manufactured in an environment that is focused on the fashion industry’s social impact. Ethical fashion considers living wages, working conditions, workers’ rights and animal welfare. Throughout 2023, Fashion Revolution, an organisation dedicated to holding the global fashion industry accountable, ran their Good Clothes, Fair Pay campaign which demanded living wage legislation across the garment, textile and footwear sectors.


An example of the Fashion Revolution campaigning in action. Image Credits: Francois Le Nguyen on Unsplash.


Fast Fashion is the antithesis of sustainable fashion. Fast fashion can be described as mass-produced, poorly constructed, trendy clothing which is usually discarded by shoppers after a few wears. Zara, Primark and H&M are among some of the most established fast fashion brands. Fast Fashion brands most often exercise unethical practices such as the overworking and underpaying of factory workers.


Greenwashing is when a company publishes misleading or even false claims about their environmental practices as a means to encourage the public to purchase their product. In 2022 Boohoo was called out for exaggerating the sustainability of their 45-piece collection with Kourtney Kardashian, with Dazed magazine stating that it was more than just greenwashing it was a cash grab.


Post-Consumer Waste describes the textile waste that the consumer produces because the garment is damaged, the wrong size or is now deemed out of style. Even though charity shops help re-distribute a large percentage of our post-consumer clothing waste ‘only between 10 and 30 % of second-hand donations in charity shops are resold in store’.


A photo highlighting how textile waste makes it to landfill. Image Credits: Unsplash+ on Unsplash.


Pre-Consumer Waste refers to the raw supplies, such as fabric scraps, that are created before a garment even reaches the consumer. Designer, Rua Carlota, challenges waste culture by embracing the beauty of recycling through crafting innovative patchwork knits using fabric remnants.


Responsible Fashion in very recent years many experts and campaigners have opted for the term responsible fashion over sustainable fashion, on the basis that the phrase is contradictory. For example, Fashion Critic Vanessa Friedman has argued that the term sustainable fashion is itself an oxymoron: Sustainable after all, implies ‘able to continue over a period of time’… Fashion, on the other hand, implies change over time. The term responsible fashion therefore offers a reconciliation for what is considered an impossible ideal.


Slow Fashion in its simplest term is the opposite of fast fashion, as it prioritises the creation of high-quality truly wearable clothing. The Slow Fashion movement advocates for a return to standards of production employed prior to the Industrial Revolution, as it calls for clothing to be locally sourced and manufactured. Slow Garments is an outstanding example of slow fashion, as designer Tiffany, creates premium basics on a made-to-order basis.


Sustainable Fashion is an umbrella term used to describe garments that have been manufactured with the environment in mind. To be considered a sustainable fashion brand, the company must strive to minimise its environmental impact throughout the entirety of its supply chain. British fashion brand, Hairy Mary, is a prime example as each design is handmade ethically in London using eclectic offcuts, recycled tablecloths, antique napkins, and retro tea towels.


An example of a sustainable fashion brand. Image Credits: Harper Sunday on Unsplash.


Transparency is the practice of brands publicly disclosing all the information surrounding the production of their clothing including labour practices. Hissy Fit Clothing identifies as a transparent fashion brand, as it utilises a fully visible supply chain and owner Danielle Graham regularly shares snippets of the production process across the brand’s social media platforms.


Ultra-Fast Fashion is marked by distastefully speedy production cycles. Ultra-fast fashion brands include Shein, Romwe and Temu, who all mass-produce garments based on the latest micro-trends that are seen across social media.


Upcycling involves the re-working and repurposing of old clothes into something new. Cow Vintage, which is an online and in-person vintage retailer, has a dedicated collection called Cow Rework which focuses on upcycling vintage pieces. 


A fun example of upcycling using crochet. Image Credits: Shelter on Unsplash.


Vintage Fashion is typically categorised as any garments that are over 15 years old, anything younger should be referred to as second-hand or preloved. Depop and Vinted are great avenues for locating unique vintage pieces that you will cherish forever.


Now that you’ve received the low-down on all the newest terminology in the realm of sustainable fashion I am sure you are feeling ready to embark on your sustainable fashion journey. If so, I highly recommend that you check out the Good On You app. The app allows you to investigate how your favourite fashion brands measure up against various sustainability and ethical ratings. Furthermore, by reading the app's journal articles, you can stay current with all the latest vocabulary in sustainable fashion and ensure you never fall behind ever again.



About the author: Daisy Culleton is an American Studies and History graduate from the University of Nottingham. She has a keen interest in both Art and Environmental History. She also publishes VNTG, a Substack newsletter that explores sustainable fashion.

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