There are so many concepts related to sustainable fashion that it is easy to get lost in them. That is why I decided to prepare a cheat sheet with the basic terms of the eco world. As there are more and more of them, I will be updating the list below on a regular basis.
It is finding a balance between the processes of design, production and consumption of goods. It will not be easy, because fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters of the environment. It is responsible for gigantic CO2 emissions, wasting hectoliters of our most valuable resource – water and polluting the oceans with chemicals and plastic.
Fortunately, more and more brands (inspired by the circular economy model) not only implement environmentally friendly production processes, but also try to reduce waste.
It is a business model based on mass production of clothes, made at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest possible time, often in unethical conditions.
The clothes are produced with a view to short-term connection to existing trends, so that they are forgotten and thrown away as soon as new style appears. The whole idea is based on the assumption that wearing the same clothes many times is a faux pas and if you want to be up to date, you MUST wear the latest trends. It is one of the pillars of the toxic ecosystem of overproduction and the artificial creation of consumer needs that has made the fashion industry one of the world’s biggest polluters.
It is worth mentioning that apart from ethical issues, fast fashion regularly manipulates and lies. Limited quantities of goods on the shelves and very frequent rotation is a deliberate procedure to create in us the feeling that if we do not buy a given product immediately, we will lose the chance to chase the latest trend. In addition, big brands are regularly accused of stealing designs from other designers while offering much worse output. When buying fast-fashion, we get clothes made of lower-quality materials, less durable, often badly sewn and therefore less comfortable.
As a result, by choosing fast fashion, we poison the world in which we live and contribute to unethical employment practices. In return we get a product that seems like a fake, which is supposed to „break” quickly and force us to another visit in the shop.
It is a term that describes a conscious and ethical approach to producing clothes. It stands in opposition to ideas popularized by big brands, where consumer awareness is at the far end of their business goals. For 'slow fashion’ on the other hand, consumer awareness is a priority: the manufacturing processes, conditions of workplace and materials used in production – it can be described as 'I know what I am buying’.
While the term itself is relatively new, it has a lot to do with how our parents and grandparents dressed. Instead of buying low-quality clothes and changing them every now and then, they bought high-quality garments that would stay with them for years. Today, thanks to access to information it should be easier for us to make ethical choices.
Circular economy vs. linear
In short, it is an economic model aimed at minimizing the consumption of natural resources, energy and waste generated in the production process. Linear’s economy goal, on the other hand, is a continuous growth, increasing consumption of raw materials, and thus expanding the volume of waste.
It is another example of drawing on ideas popular several dozen years ago and enriching them with current scientific knowledge. Until recently, cities were full of tailors, shoemakers and all kinds of repair specialists. Today, we are not only surrounded by products that are short-lived, often deliberately short-lived, but also designed in such a way that they are more difficult to repair. Our grandparents did not throw away anything that could be of any use. Today we should follow their example.
The circular economy enriches this philosophy with a conscious approach to production based on three basic assumptions:
- Elimination of pollution and waste at the production stage
- What if pollution and waste ceased to exist? We can think about it at the early design stage and take into account the negative side effects affecting us and the environment that may occur during the production process.
- Keeping products and raw materials in constant use
- The circular economy tries to maintain the value of the energy, labor, and materials used in production. This means design aimed at greater durability, reusability both by the user and as a raw material needed to create new products.
- Recovery of natural systems
- Instead of using non-renewable resources, we choose those that can be used continuously or that can improve our environment, e.g. by recovering valuable raw materials so that they can be used in natural fertilizers or by using renewable energy sources.
These concepts have real impact on our lives. Nobody wants to live next to a landfill site, a depot of toxic waste, or choke due to polluted air. Nobody wants to worry about toxic substances getting into the food. Nobody wants nature to be something we only read about in books.
It is the process of reusing waste.
The most famous topic related to recycling is plastic. Some brands have turned plastic bottles into fiber that can be used to create new clothes. By supporting recycling, we reduce the amount of waste generated by our society. However, it should be remembered that the recycling process uses more energy and chemicals, and its overall impact on the environment is not always positive.
It is a process that involves breaking an item down into its component elements and creating material that is inferior in quality to its original version but can still be used for other purposes, e.g. old sports shoes converted into the surface of a basketball court. Downcycling should involve raw materials that cannot be recycled or upcycled.
The opposite of downcycling. The idea is to use waste to create a higher quality product than the original one. Upcycling allows you to find new functions for old items, e.g. all of my products are upcycled or, for example, Marine Serre evening dresses, which are made of old fishing vests.
Upcycling consumes much less energy than the process of recycling. It removes waste from the circulation, thus it has a better impact on the environment. It also encourages innovation and introduces completely new ideas to the world of fashion.
It is a marketing spin aimed at creating a false image of a company or product. This applies to both ecology and an ethical approach to employment.
The most common examples are clichéd initiatives such as creating one eco clothing line, changing toxic material to another – slightly less harmful, or changing light bulbs to ecological ones in just a few offices. Very often, such a company later announces its new ecological image in the media, at the same time it does not publish detailed data allowing to verify its statements.
Luckily, thanks to the Internet, it is becoming easier to spot greenwashing. There are more and more journalists and independent organizations that verify the statements of big brands (e.g. Remake World, which looks into and reviews big brands https://directory.remake.world/)