The discovery of sustainable fashion opens up a whole new world of possibilities; improving your own and the environment’s health by making more conscious clothing choices. In the process of discovery comes navigating a new set of sustainable and ethical fashion terminology, which can be a little confusing. Fair trade fashion, recycled and upcycled fashion, sustainable, ethical… What do they all mean?
We spoke with a group of CONTENT brand founders (aka, those in the know) to find out their definitions of some key terms. Read on for a glossary of sustainable and ethical fashion definitions to know.
Recycled and Upcycled Fashion
“‘Upcycling’ and ‘recycling’ are increasingly sneaking into the sustainable fashion vocabulary. Whilst they both live in the same family of words – pertaining to the re-use of materials – strictly speaking they mean different forms of recycling. ‘Upcycling’ is the re-use of a waste material into a product of higher quality than the original materials. At The R Collective, we rescue seemingly waste fabrics from world-leading luxury brands that they can’t use and deem to be waste, and through creative design and our determined supply chain management, we upcycle these unwanted materials into beautiful clothes instead of seeing these wonderful materials be made into rags, carpets, or worse still, incinerated or landfilled. Very importantly, through this upcycling process, we capture the fabric’s greatest value, which results in the best environmental impacts.
By contrast, ‘recycling’ is the re-use and recovery of used materials into products of similar quality. In fashion, this can refer to collecting used garments and fabrics and through an industrial recycling process converting these used garments back into fibres, which will then go back into recycled fibre clothing. However, the sad reality is that in the absence of large scale machines and technology to recycle fabrics properly, the majority of clothing recycling ultimately ends up in a process called down-cycling, in which the value of the original materials is decreased, for example collecting used clothes and converting these into rags or carpets.” – Christina Dean, CEO & Founder of The R Collective.
“At Kowtow, the word ‘ethical’ is mainly associated with people. Our entire supply chain from seed to garment supports fair wages, no child labour, workers’ rights, gender equality and grower community. But in a broader sense, ‘ethical’ relates to moral principles, and in terms of ethical fashion, to me, it means something has been produced fairly and in harmony with the natural world, or recycled and upcycled. Ethical fashion is a garment that doesn’t cause harm to the environment or people. It’s a garment that can be mended and repaired, or at the end of its lifetime, it either biodegrades or is responsibly recycled into something new.” – Gosia Piatek, Founder & Director of Kowtow
Fair Trade Fashion
“Fair trade fashion means having the best, faithful business partners in the world. Without great evenly matched partnerships, fair trade is hardly possible. Of course, ideally you know every single person within a garment’s – or in our case shoe’s – production chain; from farmer to sewer to manager. However, as soon as fair trade fashion is reaching a specific growth and production volume, this becomes almost impossible. Even for us, a small sneaker brand, we cannot manage to visit every single person each time we visit Asia.
Great partnerships between brand and production are vital for fair trade fashion. We see ourselves as pioneers who show big players how to achieve fair trade fashion so that they can learn and adapt.” – Marc Solterbeck, Founder of Ethletic
“Before the invention of synthetic dyes a century ago, people gathered their colours from the lands and the seasons that surrounded them. At ound, we dye our garments with handmade pigments extracted from food waste and plants. This natural technique is our answer to the toxic synthetic dyes of an industry that pollutes and poisons our water streams and soils.
The intricate process of naturally dying a silk garment takes up to two weeks. First, we forage and collect the dye matter. Then, we prepare the garment to absorb the colour and set up a bath separately to avoid contamination and stains. Meticulously placed in the bath, the garment is left in the water for as long as it needs to take in the colour, creating its beautiful patterns of imperfection. The colours obtained in each bath vary in relation to the qualities of the water and the dye matter, connecting each piece to the time and place where it came into being. Afterwards, the colour has to rest for a week to improve its fastness before the garment can then be washed and ironed. Natural colours tend to be pH-sensitive but, if handled with care, colour fastness is as good as industrially-dyed garments. A labour of love to obtain the pure essence and delicacy of nature.” – Paula Delgado, Founder of Ound
“Fashion shouldn’t come at a cost to the planet in which we live, and yet we also shouldn’t have to compromise style for ethics. This is my mission. I think we should look at not just the design process, but at areas like geography – often the garment you are wearing has travelled through 5-10 countries before it lands in your hands. This taxes our planet and resources. It is much more sustainable to find the countries producing organic raw materials that can then be turned into a finished product in a relatively local geographical location. Then to be considered sustainable you need to look at all processes; using the minimal amount of chemicals and respecting the workers and animals also.” – Amy Powney, Founder of Mother of Pearl