15 Must-Know Slow Fashion Terms

So you want to advocate for  the slow fashion movement, but you’re not confident on the right terms to use? We can help, thanks to our trusty source: Condé Nast. Condé Nast has partnered with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion, University of Arts London to compile the Sustainable Fashion Glossary - a robust list of terms to help understand precisely what each word or phrase means. 

This blog post is devoted to highlighting 15 of The Sustainable Fashion Glossary’s 254 terms and definitions. We’ve selected these 15 specific terms based on very common usage throughout slow fashion discussions:

  1. Artisan - An artisan is a skilled maker who makes products by hand with an exceptional manual dexterity and tacit knowledge. Artisanal labor has always been inseparable from the culture of fashion and it still plays a key role in the making of fashion products, from the hand embroidery and weaving communities in India and Thailand to the luxury master craftsmen and craftswomen in the heritage fashion houses of Europe. Despite the high level of skill required, artisanal labor is notoriously exploited because the long hours needed for hand production make it impossible for artisanal products to compete on price point with mass-manufactured alternatives. Globalization has further devalued artisanal labor by increasing global competition and enabling the art and craft dealers and fashion brands from advanced economies to profit from low labor costs and insufficient labor rights legislation in developing countries with rich artisan traditions.

  2. Fashion Revolution - Fashion Revolution is a global movement for a fairer, safer, cleaner and more transparent fashion industry. It was founded in 2013 in response to the Rana Plaza disaster and its key activities concentrate around the annual Fashion Revolution Week, that marks the anniversary of Rana Plaza. The global impact of the campaign Who Made My Clothes with the accompanying hashtag #imadeyourclothes has been growing and Fashion Revolution now has voluntary representatives across all continents. Its annually published Fashion Transparency Index reviews the world's largest brands and retailers in terms of the volume and character of data they disclose about their human rights and environmental policy practice and impacts.

  3. Fast Fashion - Fast fashion is a model of fashion production and consumption that relies on fast turnaround of styles and products with sales prices, often leading to fast discarding of pieces, cumulatively resulting in extremely high social and environmental costs throughout the entire value chain. The fast fashion model has expanded globally since the 1990s and the rise of offshore manufacture with access to cheap labor in developing countries has been a key enabler of its global expansion. The sudden availability of large volumes of inexpensive fast fashion items over the last 20-30 years created a mindset that makes it acceptable to "regularly consume and discard clothing". High turnover of fashion products is currently a widespread practice and research shows that garments are often used for less than a season. It is estimated that the number of times a garment is worn before disposal has decreased by a worldwide average of 36% percent within the last two decades, and the average number of times a garment gets worn is now lower in China than in Europe. It should be noted that no item of clothing can be accurately defined as ‘fast fashion’ as the cycle starts with the sowing of a seed or the extraction of oil, which takes place many months, years or decades before a finished garment is sold and worn.

  4. Greenwashing - Greenwashing is a corporate marketing strategy that takes advantage of the increased public interest in environmental issues to make false or misleading claims about a company’s environmental practices and products. To create a favourable company image, positive messages are communicated selectively, without the full disclosure of related issues. Common examples may include: advertising recycled or organic cotton products that in fact have only a fraction of recycled or organic content; claims of carbon neutral performance while this is mainly based on carbon offsetting; promotion of ‘conscious’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘green’ lines by companies who do not follow the same standards in the rest of their products; or loud environmental statements by companies whose business models are based on large-scale production and high material throughput, both of which are irreconcilable with planetary boundaries and the climate emergency. The most effective tool in combating greenwashing is education using a shared language on the environmental and social impacts of fashion and deepening public awareness of such issues. Educational institutions as well as fashion journalists and leading fashion media have, therefore, a critical role to play in creating cultures of sustainability.

  5. Human Rights - The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) defines human rights as "rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status". Human rights include the right to life, equality before the law, freedom of expression, economic, social, and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education, and the rights to development and self-determination. They are universal and inalienable, interdependent and indivisible, equal and non-discriminatory. Apart from rights, they also comprise obligations. States have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of their citizens, whereas individuals are obliged to respect the human rights of others. Human rights are protected and enforced by a series of international treaties, of which all states have ratified at least one and 80% of the states have ratified four or more. Some fundamental human rights are protected by universally valid international legislation such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) of 1948 that emerged as a result of the atrocities of the Second World War. Fashion has a multi-faceted relationship with human rights, regarding employment practices and the narratives of fashion, which either uphold or deny universal rights, equality and equity.

  6. Living Wage - A living wage is a decent remuneration for labor that enables workers to meet their basic needs, sustain healthy lifestyles, and support their dependants. A living wage is a recognized human right, yet it is denied to most of the estimated 80 million workers in the global fashion industry. There is a logic within supply chains to minimize costs and maximize margins and wages are one of the first pressure points to be squeezed by retailers. Wages often make up only a small proportion of the value of fashion products and campaigners have been lobbying on the grounds that paying a living wage would add little to the retail cost of finished garments but could mean a dramatic change for the better in the lives of garment workers. Most garment workers are women, who are kept in deep poverty despite producing garments for leading fashion brands.

  7. Natural Fibers - Natural fibers are fibers derived from natural resources such as plants or animal proteins.

  8. Overconsumption - Overconsumption is a mode of excessive consumption, that outpaces both the real needs of people and the capacity of the global ecosystems to regenerate. The rates of fashion consumption in the Global North have been on the rise since the 1950s, followed by similar developments in emerging economies such as India and China. Yet, fashion consumption has especially accelerated since the 1990s with the introduction of the fast fashion model. High turnover of fashion products is now a widespread practice across many areas of the world and research shows that garments are often used for less than a season. It is estimated that the number of times a garment is worn before disposal has decreased by a worldwide average of 36% percent within the last two decades and the average number of times a garment gets worn is now lower in China than in Europe. Large quantities of valuable clothes are regularly discarded and because only a small fraction can be recycled, most are destined for incineration or end up in landfills. Apart from the alarming volumes of waste, the "endless cycles of desire and disappointment" linked to fast turnovers of styles have also potentially negative effects on the well-being of fashion users.

  9. Re-commerce - Re-commerce, also known as re-sale, is an emerging area of the second-hand marketplace where businesses and individuals can buy and sell pre-owned fashion items through consignment, peer-to-peer and online platforms. While the second-hand market has traditionally existed in vintage and charity shops, auction houses, and informal fairs or markets, re-commerce generally refers to a more selective, ‘curated’ or high-end approach. Re-commerce offers users the ability to sell on unwanted pieces, and so ensures that products are kept in use for longer by passing them on to new ownership. The recent expansion of re-commerce models has been driven by multiple innovations that enabled professionalization of online platforms and logistics, as well as a shift in public perception due to attractiveness of access to the luxury market at an affordable price. The assumed benefit of re-commerce is in decreasing industry reliance on virgin materials and the need for new goods. However, the correlation between re-commerce models and reduced consumption of new items still requires evidence.

  10. Renewable resources - Renewable resources are natural resources that have the capacity to regrow or replenish their original levels after exploitation, within a human timescale. However, this capacity also hinges on responsible resource management. Overwithdrawal of renewable resources such as water, wood or food can result in levels beyond which their regeneration is impossible. The term renewable resources is often used in connection with renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind or geothermal power.

  11. Repairability - Repairability refers to the potential of fashion items to be easily repaired and maintained, ensuring they are kept in use for longer. This is enabled for example by including components that can be replaced, such as buttons, or by providing extra swatches of materials for visible or invisible mending. Alternatively, easy access to professional repair services that can help maintain a product’s function and aesthetic also facilitates repairability. When applied to design and product development, design for repairability gives careful consideration to future use and finds creative ways for design to ‘absorb’ future repairs without compromising the item's aesthetic appeal. Design for repairability and re-education in repair skills are now considered among priorities in extending clothing lifetimes and a transition to more sustainable ways of engaging with and enjoying fashion.

  12. Supply Chain - Supply chain refers to all the processes, organizations and individuals involved in turning raw materials into finished products and delivering them to customers. The fashion industry has a complex global supply chain that is notoriously difficult to trace. For example, raw materials originate in one country but are likely to be spun into yarn in another, then they will be shipped to be woven into fabric elsewhere and later transported for finishing into yet another location, again different to where the final product will be manufactured. The rapid shift to offshore manufacture since the 1990s means that most of these processes now typically take place away from the geographic location of the commissioning company and its target market, and so finished products are shipped yet again to where they are sold. This practice removes immediate control over manufacturing, dilutes responsibility for its social and environmental impacts, and leads to long and opaque supply chains that make complete transparency difficult to achieve. Yet, without transparency it is impossible to improve the damaging environmental and social practices in the production of fashion.

  13. Sustainability - Sustainability, in a broad sense, refers to the way of life in which human and natural systems co-exist in a balanced and non-destructive way that enables continuous prosperity and well-being for all. It is not a fixed state or a neatly defined goal. Instead, sustainability is an ongoing process that draws on the interdependence of culture, society, economy and the environment, while constantly considering how they affect each other. It is for this reason that we now recognize four elements of sustainability - cultural, social, environmental, and economic. All of these are critical for sustaining lifestyles that show an equal respect to the needs of the people and the planet. Cultural sustainability refers to the creating of an environment that values and cultivates diversity of cultural expressions relating to heritage, customs, beliefs, histories, and material culture practices. Social sustainability is seen as the ability of people to interact and collaborate at local, regional, national, and global levels, in ways that create and exemplify social cohesion and mutual respect. It considers places, communities, and organizations, both formal and informal, and their prosperity and well-being at present and in the future. Environmental sustainability means recognizing our connectedness to and dependence on nature and cultivating lifestyles that fit well within the limits of planetary boundaries. Economic sustainability requires economic practices that guarantee decent working conditions and economic prosperity for all, without compromising any of the other elements of sustainability.

  14. Transparency - Transparency is a requirement for companies to take full responsibility for their entire supply chains and act on their accountability for the social and environmental practices at all stages of manufacturing of their products. The fashion industry now relies on complex global supply networks that are notoriously difficult to trace, but as the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster highlighted, monitoring and improving each step that leads to the delivery of final products is a moral obligation. Rana Plaza gave rise to the worldwide movement Fashion Revolution with its Who Made My Clothes campaign, and the annual publication of their Fashion Transparency Index that reviews the world's largest brands and retailers in terms of the volume and character of data they disclose about their human rights and environmental policy practice and impacts. Some examples of methods adopted to achieve transparency include published supplier lists and the use of RFID (Radio-frequency identification) or blockchain technologies to track the movement of materials and products. Yet, while transparency is a crucial first step, it has little value unless it is accompanied by an active commitment to preventing any abuse of either people or the environment. In addition, improvements through effective policies, legislation, and regulations, as well as punishment and legal action against companies that are guilty of unacceptable social and environmental practices, also need to be urgently put in place.

  15. Water Pollution - Water pollution refers to the contamination of water streams, lakes, oceans, groundwater, and sources of drinking water due to human activity. The role of fashion in water pollution is linked to run offs of pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of natural materials and the contamination of waterways with toxic chemicals from all stages of textile production, including processes such as dyeing and finishing. Further pollution is caused by the release of chemicals and microplastics during the use phase of clothing, especially through domestic laundering. Large volumes of unsold and used clothing deposited in landfills cause further water damage through leakages into waterways. The Citarum river in Indonesia, with over 200 textile factories along its riverbank, is considered the most polluted river in the world.

If you want to learn more about slow fashion terms, take a look at the full Sustainable Fashion Glossary here.
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