These terms will help you understand fashion’s role in the climate crisis

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

This article was produced by CNN Style’s editorial group in partnership with Fashion Revolution, a world non-profit campaigning for a clear, secure, truthful, clear and accountable trend business.

To higher understand the trend business’s toll on the planet, in addition to new proposals to cut back its environmental footprint, it is necessary to get to know the jargon used in every single place from scientific research and information stories to advertising and marketing campaigns.

Over the years, sure terminology in this house has grow to be modern, and a few definitions have grow to be diluted as they’ve been extra broadly used.

If you’ve discovered your self questioning, what “sustainability” or “carbon neutral” actually means, you are usually not alone and the excellent news is you’re asking the proper questions.

Read on to be taught extra.


A time period utilized by some scientists to explain the Earth’s present geological time interval, as formed by human impression on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. “The Anthropocene is the first geological era to be shaped by our actions — it names humans as homewreckers of our only shared abode,” writes Professor Dilys Williams, the director of London-based Centre for Sustainable Fashion, for a difficulty of Fashion Revolution.

“Fashion is a vivid means for us to play out our identities in this context; what we make, buy, wear and cherish shapes and responds to our intentions in vital and substantial ways. The Anthropocene presents us with the biggest ever opportunity to make the ultimate fashion statement.”

Biofabricated textiles

Textiles which are created using living organisms corresponding to algae, micro organism and fungi. These different materials are most frequently biodegradable, breaking down into unhazardous substances when they’re returned to earth. Designer Roya Aghighi for instance, has created Biogarmentry, an algae-based cloth that photosynthesizes, serving to to purify the air round it; others are additionally exploring the marine plant’s means to sequester carbon. In the future, clothes that may seize and take in atmospheric carbon dioxide might help manufacturers grow to be really carbon-neutral, as a substitute of utilizing carbon-offsets to curb emissions.


Terminology that turns into modern. Since 2017, British and American retailers’ use of the phrase “sustainable” to explain varied merchandise on-line has elevated by 125%. From 2018 to 2019, the following phrases additionally noticed a soar: recycled (173%) eco (49%) and acutely aware (25%). Buzzwords could also be eye-catching for shoppers in search of to undertake moral purchasing habits, however their definitions might be nebulous and their use is not regulated, to allow them to be used to mislead consumers (see Greenwashing).

Carbon Neutral / Water Neutral

A enterprise or operation with a net-zero footprint, in terms of greenhouse gasses emitted or water used. Companies can, theoretically, obtain this by decreasing their climate impression, then mitigating the remainder of their consumption via initiatives like carbon offsetting. However, some critics declare that true carbon or water neutrality merely is not attainable (see Carbon Offset) with even higher skepticism surrounding the time period “carbon negative” (or “climate positive”) — the declare that an operation produces an total discount in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Carbon Offset

A discount in greenhouse gases designed to counterbalance a rise in emissions elsewhere. This could embrace planting timber, which will go on to soak up carbon dioxide, or investing in the improvement of renewable vitality sources. In the trend business, corporations seeking to offset their carbon emissions will usually assist initiatives in growing nations to cut back international emissions. But offsetting could solely outsource the downside. As the co-founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsola de Castro, notes: “Offsetting is like saying, ‘I’m going to keep a really, really messy house but pay someone to clean my next-door neighbor’s.”

Circular Fashion

A system of designing and producing garments that eradicates waste. In a round system, the way forward for a fabric or useful resource is taken into account from the starting, with the objective that it circulates indefinitely or returns to the biosphere safely. A “closed loop” could encompass a variety of applied sciences and improvements, from clothes rental companies to supplies constituted of meals waste. As lecturers Rebecca Earley and Kate Goldworthy write for Fashion Revolution: “The same system could include slow garments, which are handcrafted or upcycled from pre-loved ones, at the same time as fast garments, which are made from fibres that can be chemically recycled back to virgin quality in a closed loop system.”

Cognitive Dissonance

Possessing or demonstrating two or extra conflicting beliefs or behaviors on a given topic (as an illustration, posting about acutely aware consumption on Instagram whereas persevering with to purchase quick trend). Social psychologist Leon Festinger has prompt that people expertise psychological rigidity when our beliefs and actions do not match up.


The act of 1 nation exerting authority over different territories for financial acquire, or an entity making the most of an rising financial system. And it is occurring proper now in the trend business, in accordance with Céline Semaan, founding father of The Library and Slow Factory. “Our supply chains and each of the most used materials in fashion expose the obvious: Colonialism is a continuing economic reality,” she told Fashion Revolution. “Exploitation of cheap labor, modern day slavery and extreme poverty are the result of a colonial system that continues to benefit from its colonies.”

Conscious Consumption

Making buying selections based mostly on a product or model’s environmental, financial and/or social impression, together with how an merchandise was made, how staff are handled and the values that an organization upholds. Conscious consumption may additionally imply consuming much less, total, and as a substitute specializing in extending the lifetime of — whether or not that is reusing, renting, repairing or recycling — merchandise already in existence.

5 methods you can change your trend habits to help the planet

Eco-friendly supplies

Natural fibers which are biodegradable have a smaller carbon and water footprint, like Merino wool. However, not all eco-friendly supplies are created equal — their farming and provide chains could make them unsustainable. While cotton is a pure fiber, and is — by itself — biodegradable, its manufacturing includes huge portions of water and pesticides, and may embrace poisonous processes, corresponding to bleaching and dyeing. Some designers, nonetheless, are trying into progressive approaches to evolve such processes in order that the use of pure fibers, like cotton and wool, might be as environmentally pleasant as attainable.

Fast / Slow Fashion

An strategy that sees manufacturers responding to new developments by rolling out cheap and infrequently poor-quality variations. The time period “fast fashion” was coined by the New York Times in 1989 to explain the debuting Zara and Express, each of which provided runway appears to be like at comparatively inexpensive costs. By manner of distinction, “slow fashion” encourages purchasing mindfully (see Conscious Consumption) and sustaining a restricted wardrobe of necessities fairly than following fleeting developments.

Garment Care

Cleaning, caring for and repairing one’s garments to make them final, with an emphasis on non-harmful practices. According to Fashion Revolution’s zine “Loved Clothes Last,” shoppers can take away stains with non-toxic chemical substances, clear denims by freezing them, wash garments sparingly or in cooler temperatures, and discover ways to sew, patch and embroider to fix or remix previous clothes.


When manufacturers, organizations or governments promote an eco-conscious picture with out taking significant motion to again it up. This usually sees corporations deceptive shoppers by claiming they’re extra sustainable (see Buzzwords) than their manufacturing and sourcing practices would possibly counsel. “Sometimes a fashion brand can use a single ‘sustainable’ project or moment to manipulate customers into believing the brand’s entire value chain and ethos is ethical,” writes Tammy Gan for Fashion Revolution. “This is often evident in consumer-facing initiatives like a communication campaign, a fashion collection or brand packaging, leaving other irresponsible supply chain details and decisions hidden.”


In the 2016 documentary “River Blue,” which explores the trend business’s role in destroying the world’s waterways, Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain used the time period “hydrocide” to explain the hurt that people trigger to waterways via industrialization. “In Bangladesh, the Buriganga river is polluted daily by toxic leather tanneries, while, in Indonesia, the Citarum River is home to some 2,000 textile factories, dumping waste and effluent into the unregulated waters,” Narain says in the documentary. “Fashion industry hydrocide is driving water scarcity around the globe.”


Sourcing from and using industries and artisans which are native to both the producer or the place the place a method or garment originated. Take Sri Lankan designer Amesh Wijesekera, who fuses Western design influences with the hand-looming, knitting, crocheting, printing traditions of his residence nation. “When creating a collection, I go to (artisans’) homes in the weaving villages and we work together,” he informed CNN. “They have all the knowledge on the craft and craftmanship and I bring the new ideas with the designs.

Living Wage

The minimum amount a worker should earn in order to afford essentials including food, housing, health insurance, education and clothing for themselves and their family. The living wage does not necessarily coincide with a country’s minimum wage. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, garment workers are paid, on average, two to five times less than the amount needed for their family to “stay with dignity.”

The legal minimum wage for garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for example, is 8,000 taka ($94) a month, while the living wage for a typical family has been estimated to be double that. In Ethiopia, where there is no mandated minimum wage, a recent NYU report found that the country’s garment workers are the lowest paid in the world, making just $26 a month, despite being a top exporter of clothing. Fashion brands are being pressured to ensure their factories pay a living wage, with critics suggesting that the industry’s low wages make it complicit in modern slavery.


The duration and lifespan of an item. Although “round trend” offers a way to responsibly produce new garments (see Circular Fashion), it requires system-wide design and thus there’s only so much an individual consumer can do to contribute. Instead, consumers can focus on longevity — re-wearing and mending clothes for as long as possible (see Garment Care). Fashion companies can help by “shifting the focus of their dominant advertising and marketing narratives from comfort and short-lived developments to the aesthetics of sturdiness, longevity and high quality,” writes design academic and educator Jonathan Chapman for Fashion Revolution.


Tiny fragments of plastic that have increasingly polluted the world’s ecosystems — primarily through oceans and rivers. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), any piece of plastic less than 5mm long, including microbeads from personal care products and microfibers from synthetic clothing, can be considered a microplastic. The textile industry produces more than 40 million tons of synthetic fabrics each year. Every load of laundry sheds millions of microfibers, and not all of them are filtered at wastewater treatment plants. The potential effects of such particles accumulating in our food chain are still worryingly unknown.

Doing your laundry spills plastics into the ocean

Purchasing Practices

The choices that fashion brands make when selecting and doing business with suppliers and manufacturers. These decisions have a direct impact on both the environment and workers’ well-being. In 2013, for instance, a structurally unsafe garment factory building, Rana Plaza, collapsed in Bangladesh, killing over 1,100 people who made clothes for brands including Benetton, Bonmarché, The Children’s Place, Walmart and Zara. The tragedy laid bare the consequences of factory negligence, while raising questions about whether labels should take greater responsibility for their supply chains.

Sustainable / Ethical Fashion

Sustainability is a way of meeting human needs without depleting Earth’s natural resources or damaging its ecological balance, thus preserving the planet and its assets for future generations. Sustainable fashion has become a buzzword in recent years, with many experts critical of how its vague and arbitrary use can mislead buyers (see Greenwashing). Likewise, ethical fashion is a larger umbrella term that implies honest, transparent business practices that prioritize sustainability as well as positive social impact, such as providing a living wage for factory workers. However, there is no clear-cut definition or internationally agreed upon criteria to call a brand “moral,” making the label murky for consumers.


The extent to which a brand discloses credible and comprehensive information about how its products are made, including its manufacturing processes, distribution, worker welfare and environmental impact. Greater transparency facilitates third-party auditing, encourages accountability and helps shoppers make more ethical decisions (see Conscious Consumption). Fashion Revolution global policy director, Sarah Ditty, writes: “Transparency isn’t a silver bullet that will remedy the many advanced and deeply systemic issues in the international trend business. However, transparency supplies a window into the circumstances in which our garments are being made and permits us to deal with them extra rapidly and collaboratively.”.


Transforming old and/or unwanted products and materials into new ones, thus giving them new life and increasing their actual or perceived value. In fashion, this can be done both by garment producers — using scraps and excess fabric to produce new items, for instance — and by consumers, who can repurpose clothes they no longer wear into new items. Unlike recycling, which often seeks to extract valuable materials, upcycling results in an item of higher value than its constituent parts.

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