Sustainable Fashion 101

But why care about Sustainable Fashion?

The fashion industry is the world’s dirties industry after oil, and if you didn’t know those facts already, chances are you’ve seen hashtags like #sustainablefashion, #fashionrevolution or #ethicallymade circling around. But what does sustainable fashion really mean? And what can you as a consumer do to play your part in it?

Have you been curious to learn more only to feel overwhelmed by all the information and terminology that’s out there? Don’t worry, below is a list of some of the terminology to give you a good start, and to give you a chance to understand a thing or two about sustainable fashion and what you as a consumer can do to feel good about the choices that you make!

Reusing Materials - Terminology


Taking something that originally had a purpose and meaning and you’re changing that purpose and integrating that into your life in a new way. Ex: Taking a glass jar with pickles, wash it, and then use it as a drinking glass.


Taking something before it is downgraded or recycled and moving it up the supply chain in one way or another. For exempting taking cutting waste from making a garment (the pieces that get left behind) and then take that waste to create a new garment from it. You’re taking something that would’ve been destined for the trash without actually changing it’s physical original state.


Tearing things a part and getting it back into a state that is moldable. In this process you’re making fiber shorter so you’re actually downgrading the capability of the material, instead of using it in the state that it’s in. An example of this is a pair of shoes made from recycled PET bottles. The plastic is not as strong as it was as a bottle, however, it might be a good option for making fabric that turn into shoes.

Photo:  Praise Santos

What is "Sustainably Made"?

Socially Sustainable.jpg

Are the workers fairly treated? Do they get a fair living wage and are the challenged at their work to grow and learn?

Environmentally Sustainable.jpg

Many factors play a part to make something environmentally sustainable, but some things to look into are if the materials are organic, if it’s been dyed with natural colors, if there’s been a lot of toxic chemicals used in the production process and also how long the product has traveled? Could there be an option that is more local and that would leave a smaller footprint on our planet? Also - what is the quality of the product? How long will it last? Moving away from fast fashion and investing in garments that will last for along time is another way of supporting an environmentally sustainable supply chain.

Economically Sustainable.jpg

Is the business model sustainable for future growth?

Photo:  Julia O Test

Some Other Terminology...

Ethically Made.jpg

Made with transparency and assuring that the workers who brought life to the product got fair wages and treatments.

Sustainably Made.jpg

Made intentionally with the environments best interest in mind. Producing something sustainably is quite broad, but it can be about using natural dies over toxic ones, organic cotton over non-organic, or making clothes with new innovative fabrics that are less harmful to the environment. 

Locally Made.jpg

Made in factories or grown by farmers near you. The fact that the product hasn’t traveled all over the world to get to you plays a big part on the overall carbon footprint left on the planet, and it’s especially important to think about when buying food.


Clothes, makeup and other products that are made without harming any other beings, and the terms is usually used for products that are made without animal testing or for showing that no part of the production has made any harm to an animal or human being.

Slow Fashion.jpg

The opposite of fast fashion or clothes made in so called sweatshops. 'Slow Fashion' means that we should go back to valuing clothes and the workers that made them, and to not replace our wardrobe every other second. How can we find second, third or even fourth homes for our clothes? How can we mend them when they break? And how can we make clothes in high enough quality to begin with so that we don’t have to update our wardrobe multiple times a year? Slow fashion is all about consuming less and consuming better, and to do so with the planet's and the individual's best in mind.

Circular Fashion.jpg

The concept ‘circular fashion’ was first coined in spring 2016 and is based on the main principles of circular economy and sustainable development, and relates to the fashion industry in a wide sense, i.e. not only to fashion but also apparel, sportswear and outdoor wear. Garments as well as shoes and accessories are in focus. The sixteen key principles of circular fashion concern the entire life cycle of a product, from design and sourcing, to production, transportation, storage, marketing and sale, as well as the user phase and the product’s end of life

"Circular fashion’ can be defined as clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use." (Dr. Anna Brismar, 2017,

To learn more about sustainable fashion, tune into my talk with Brooke McEver who is the product lead at Unspun, a company changing the future of apparel through consumer behavior and manufacturing methods. She also co-founded the Sustainable Fashion Alliance, focused on collective action from industry stakeholders, and previously ran the Sustainability Department at Bangladesh’s largest Factory for three years. You can find the episode here: Hey Change Podcast, Episode 042 - Introduction to Sustainable Fashion.