A glossary for sustainable and ethical fashion

Trying to learn more about sustainable and ethical fashion? This A–Z glossary is for you. Dive into what the common words actually mean.

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29 Dec




 min read

A glossary for sustainable and ethical fashion


Biodegradable materials can naturally breakdown into the environment without negative effects.

Though just because a material says biodegradable, it doesn't mean it can biodegrade anywhere. It needs to be subject to the right conditions — which is usally a mix of thetemperature, water, oxygen and bacteria present.

The material is broken down into it's original components thanks to living organisms like bacteria or fungi. This means harmful gasses aren’t released into the environment. All materials biodegrade at different speesd — so the faster a material biodegrades, the less negative impact there is for the environment. Some materials take more than a lifetime to biodegrade.

Carbon neutral

Balancing the carbon dioxide emissions you emit by investing in a carbon offsetting scheme.

There are several ways to do this — like donating to charities which plant new trees or reducing emissions through energy efficiency.

You can understand your personal carbon footprints using calculators online. For businesses — many more things need to be taken into account.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen drastically over the last decades. Which has caused devastating effects to people, animals and the environment.

Circular fashion

Manufacturing clothes in a way that they can be reused, recycled, or regenerated in other ways at the end of their life. Circular fashion is a more considered way to produce clothes — that concerns the entire lifecycle of a product.

From design, production, transportation, storage, marketing, through to someone using the product. And most importantly — what happens at the end of a product’s life.

Fair trade and Fairtrade

Firstly, there is fair trade and there is Fairtrade. Fair trade is a set of standards that different supports producers, protects workers’ rights and looks after the environment. This is a shared aim by many different organisations.

Being classed as fair trade means a product meets the standards that independent fair trade organisations set.

Fairtrade on the other hand refers to a specific organisation — Fairtrade International.

In fashion — fair trade can quickly become confusing. Fair trade may apply to certain raw materials or parts of the process, but will rarely cover the entire products supply chain.

Shop fairtrade clothes

Fast fashion

Fast fashion can be defined as cheap clothing produced at irresponsible speeds to keep up with catwalk trends.

Brands are able to meet these irresponsible speeds by using low-quality materials, pushing workers to the limit, and causing long term effects for their own short-term gain. Pushing the cultural idea of throwaway clothing with short-lived trends.

Fast fashion has damaging effects to the environment and humanity. Often resulting in over production, waste, environmental degradation, and the overworking of factory makers

Read more about fast fashion

GOTS certified

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a certification for organic textiles.

One of the hardest certifications to achieve. It goes beyond just the organic farming process to include every step of the manufacturing process.

Some of the requirements include containing at least 95% organic fibre, not using harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process, and following strict social and environmental standards.


Greenwashing is a marketing technique that makes a companies products seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Used by companies to deceive customers into buying their products.

A common example is big brands that have just one of their hundreds of clothing lines using eco-friendly materials.

Learn how to avoid greenwashing

Living wage

The minimum income needed to cover a worker’s basic needs. This covers the cost of food, housing and essential items like clothing.

Living wage is different to the legal minimum wage — which is often a lot lower than a living wage.


Very small pieces of plastic. Not a type of plastic — but any piece of plastic that’s smaller than 5mm in length. Despite the size, microplastics are a huge problem for the environment.

Synthetic fabrics are responsible for over a third of all microplastics polluting our waters.


Refers to materials that haven’t been genetically modified. Which means not using artificial chemicals, pesticides or Insecticides in the manufacturing process.

These chemicals are very damaging to the planet, the people that make the clothes, and the person that wears the product.

Here’s some great organic clothes


The process of converting waste materials into something new. Recycling saves natural resources on making new things, and reduces items going to a landfill or incinerator.

Check out clothes made from recycled material

Slow fashion

The movement of designing, creating, and buying clothing for quality and longevity.

It encourages slower production schedules, fair wages for the workers, lower carbon footprints, and less waste overall.

Learn how to practice slow fashion


Specific definitions of the word sustainable can vary greatly. But broadly speaking it means that something can be maintained for a time to come.

There are typically three pillars to sustainability: economic, societal, and environmental. And the important point is to fulfil the current needs without negatively affecting the needs of future generations.

Sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is a more environment-friendly approach to clothing production. Making sure we don’t deplete the Earth’s natural resources or cause negative harm.

Alongside the production side of things — sustainable fashion also covers extending the life of the clothes you own.

Read how to shop more sustainably


Being open and honest. Transparency is a critical first step towards positive change.

For brands — this means sharing accurate and detailed information about their products. Including information about their whole supply chains, company practices and the impact they have on workers, communities and the environment.


This means that no animals or by-products of animals have been used to make a product. As well as no testing of the product on animals.

For fashion — this means not using materials like leather, fur, wool, silk and others. Look out for the PETA-certified products to ensure no hidden animal ingredients have been used in your clothes.

Everything on Good Garms is handpicked. This article may contain affiliate links — we donate 5% of what we get to Clean Clothes Campaign.
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29 Dec