Understanding The Language Of Sustainability

'Sustainable Fashion' is a phrase you'll hear a lot at the moment and that's because it's a big part of helping our planet. Fast fashion creates a huge amount of waste each year and now more and more brands are doing their bit to help. With the news that Love Island is now partnering with eBay to offer the Islander’s second-hand clothing, searches for ‘sustainable fashion’ have skyrocketed by 100% over the past 7 days*. The partnership between Love Island and eBay aims to showcase the benefits of pre-worn clothing. But for those of us who are new to sustainable clothing, there are many words and terms often used that can be confusing. That's why we have created a handy guide to help with any confusion around the language of sustainability.


This refers to the treatment of people. For example, are they paid a living wage? Do they have adequate breaks and are of legal age to work? For fashion companies looking to be more ethical, it’s important to focus on the social and environmental impact of fashion. As well as this, companies should look to improve the working conditions of laborers and clothing production processes to ensure all working conditions and processes are safe and follow moral principles.


Cruelty-free refers to the welfare of animals, such as, are any animals hurt or harmed from making the garment? In clothing manufacturing, this means that no animal products are used. Whereas within the beauty industry this can differ and mean that the product wasn’t tested on animals, but the product may still contain non-vegan ingredients such as honey or beeswax. To be sure that you are using completely animal-free products, you should look out for the Vegan sign.


An organic product or fabric means that it is derived from living matter, without the use of chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides. You may have heard of organic cotton, but you can also get organic hemp, bamboo, and silk, to name but a few. We often think that organic is of better quality, but it requires a lot more water and irrigation than conventional cotton. However, pesticides are used on conventional cotton which can cause damage to the environment and local resources.


It seems to be the “buzz” word of the minute, especially with the recent Love Island and eBay partnership being announced. But what does it mean? Sustainable fashion focuses on the environmental impact of clothing. It factors in how a product is taken from the earth and how it goes back into the earth. Sustainable fashion focuses on how different fibres and production methods impact the environment and seeks to create a circular system that lessens the human impact on the environment. In simpler times, for a product to be sustainable means that it can be maintained at a certain level without being harmful to the planet.

Slow Fashion

Slow fashion, quite literally, means the opposite of fast fashion. Slow fashion is all about creating quality garments that are made to last and are durable. Making garments last longer means that that they don’t need to be replaced as often. Unlike the turnaround of fast fashion, these products often have longer lead times within production but are much better for the environment, and your bank account in the long run!


Greenwashing is when a company makes a misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product. Companies engaged in greenwashing typically exaggerate their claims or benefits to mislead consumers. This can mean when a company makes a gesture towards sustainability without following it through in everything they do but promote that single activity as if it’s all they do.

Carbon offsetting

The idea behind carbon offsetting is that the carbon emissions generated through an activity (like flying or driving) are calculated, and then an equivalent is “paid off” using a scheme that reduces greenhouse gas. The money from these schemes is then used to fund programs that offset an equal number of emissions. Many critics believe that offsetting has no benefit to the climate and is not the way forward as it doesn’t promote a change in behaviour. What we should be doing is reducing our emissions entirely. You can reduce your individual carbon footprint by avoiding air travel, install renewable energy within your workplace/school/home, buy a more economic car and look to decrease the amount of meat and dairy you consume. 

Biodegradable/ Degradable/ Compostable

Biodegradable: This means that living things, such as fungi or bacteria, can break it down. The ability to biodegrade depends on temperature and exposure to UV light. Meaning products thrown into landfills will never biodegrade completely. Degradable: These Items don’t have living organisms as part of the breakdown process. Degradable bags are not classed as biodegradable or compostable. Chemical additives are used to break it down quicker than a standard plastic bag. Compostable: Compostable bags biodegrade, but only under the correct conditions. Some compostable items may be suitable for home composting. Whereas others are only suitable for industrial composting. Always check the label carefully. Kathryn Suttleworth comments “Purchasing school uniform is something that is unavoidable for many parents, and with many of us trying to switch to a more sustainable way of living, it’s understandable that some parents might worry about the environmental effect of regularly replacing school uniform. “That’s why we believe it’s important to educate about sustainable fashion, from swap shops, to learning how to fix tears and rips yourself. Understanding the terminology and language behind sustainability is key for anyone who wants to make the switch to more ethical fashion” *Google Trends data.