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The Take Action in Fashion Glossary aims to strengthen and develop sustainability literacy in fashion by providing guidance on the most pertinent terms surrounding sustainability in fashion.


Accountability is an aspect of governance which requires that public and private organizations as well as individuals assume the responsibility for their actions and impact. In the context of the fashion industry, accountability means that companies must identify, assess, and measure the impact of all their activities on people and the environment worldwide.


Air pollution is the contamination of air due to the presence of substances in the atmosphere that are harmful to the health of humans and other living beings, or cause damage to the climate or to materials. There are many different types of air pollutants, such as gases, particulates, and biological molecules.


Materials that have less environmental impact and lower overall carbon emissions during production such as Bamboo, Silk and Hemp.


Companies that design, manufacture, market, and/or license brands for clothing, footwear, and accessories.


Biodiversity is the biological variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Biodiversity loss severely impacts the health of entire ecosystems, and consequently also the human ability to adapt to the changing environment.


Carbon is a unique chemical element common to all known life. Together with the water cycle and the nitrogen cycle, the carbon cycle is critical for sustaining life on Earth. The excessive presence of carbon in the atmosphere leads to the greenhouse effect.


Carbon footprint is the estimated volume of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), especially CO2 emissions, produced both directly and indirectly to meet the requirements of an individual, an organization or a population.


The term carbon neutral, equivalent to net-zero emissions or net-zero carbon footprint, refers to a situation where greenhouse gases (GHGs) and CO2 emissions associated with individuals, organizations or whole populations are either balanced by short-term compensatory actions such as carbon offsetting, or eliminated altogether by long-term radical systems change such as transition to an economy that does not rely on burning of fossil fuels (post-carbon economy).


A carbon offset is a credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by one party that can be purchased and used to compensate (offset) the emissions of another party.  Many types of activities can generate carbon offsets. Renewable energy such as the wind farm example above, or installations of solar, small hydro, geothermal and biomass energy can all create carbon offsets by displacing fossil fuels.


Care means attentiveness and consideration for people, things, and the environment. To care means to take responsibility for the cause and effect of our own actions, recognizing the interconnectedness of the world and the human agency in it.


The concept of circular economy aims to reduce waste and pollution by keeping materials, products and resources in use for as long as possible, through iterative cycles of recovery and regeneration.


Climate change refers to persistent changes (longer than a decade) in climate caused by either natural causes or human activities.


A new industry based on sharing or renting clothing, posing a disruptive force to traditional retailers. It is an efficient and green way to extend the value of garments.


A type of swap meet wherein participants exchange their valued but no longer used clothing for clothing they will use. Clothing swaps are considered not only a good way to refill one’s wardrobe, but also are considered an act of environmentalism.


Also known as carbon emissions, CO2 emissions refer to the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. CO2 emissions are linked to burning of fossil fuels and biomass, land use and management, as well as to industrial production.


A written statement that sets forth the legal principles that should guide that organization’s decisions.


Collaboration is an active strategy of working together and sharing knowledge, resources and experiences between individuals, teams, and organizations to achieve a shared goal. In the context of fashion, pre-competition collaboration between micro, small and large players across all levels of the value chain is now considered a key enabler of the necessary systems change towards more sustainable ways of producing, communicating, selling, using and engaging with fashion in the future.


The term refers by dressing with ecologically produced clothing and accessories, as well as recycled, repurposed, second hand, among others. Everyday we can make conscious choices of dressing up with clothes that flag a better world and are made with sustainable practices and fabrics therefore, contributing to  the preservation of the environment and social welfare.


The term consumers refers to people who use products and services in exchange for a financial transaction that generates profit for those who invested in the production and provision of these products or services.


Consumption refers to the use of products and services in exchange for a financial transaction that generates profit for those who invested in their production and provision.


Corporate social responsibility is an evolving concept of corporate governance that requires businesses to extend their responsibility from managing their own resources, to also considering the long-term impact of their practices on the resources of the society, including environmental resources.


Deforestation is clearing of a forest and its conversion to another, non-forest use. Examples include farmland, grazing land for livestock for meat and leather industries, logging for the wood and paper industry, extraction of palm oil for the food industry, cosmetics products and detergents, or expansion of urban areas.


Recycling practice that involves breaking an item down into its component elements or materials. Once the constituent elements or materials are recovered, they are reused if possible but usually as a lower-value product. Ideally, only elements that cannot be reused are discarded. The goal it is reducing waste and improving the efficiency of resource use.


An ecosystem is a system of all living organisms within an area and the way in which they interact with their environment and with each other.


Efficiency refers to the ratio of effort and resources expended to achieve the intended purpose. In fashion, considerable savings in energy use and CO2 emissions have been achieved due to research progress and technological innovation. Yet, the net benefits of these savings are lost because of the constantly escalating speed and volume of production, consumption, and waste. Technological solutions to resource efficiency have little significance if they are met by continuous growth of the industry that increases market demand and consumer expectations.


Energy use refers to the amount of energy required to produce goods and provide services. Fashion products put high demands on energy use throughout their whole life cycle. This starts with fiber production, manufacturing, distribution and retail, and continues through to domestic laundering and maintenance during use. At the stage of disposal, incineration, depositing in landfill, and recycling, all require a high energy input.


Possible adverse effects caused by a development, industrial, or infrastructural project or by the release of a substance in the environment.


The duty that a company has to operate in a way that protects the environment. In other words, refers to our responsibility to use natural resources carefully, minimize damage, and ensure these resources will be available for future generations.


An extension of the basic human rights that mankind requires and deserves. In addition to having the right to food, clean water, suitable shelter, and education, having a safe and sustainable environment is paramount as all other rights are dependent upon it.


Moral principles or rules of conduct that distinguish right from wrong. Ethics are demonstrated with fairness, honesty, and respectful manners.


A popular style or practice, especially in clothing, footwear, accessories, makeup, body, or furniture. Fashion is a distinctive and often constant trend in the style in which a person dresses. It is the prevailing styles in behavior and the newest creations of textile designers.


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.


Fossil fuels are fuels generated from fossilized hydrocarbon deposits such as remains of plants and other organisms. Fossil fuels include coal, crude oil and natural gas.


The greenhouse effect is caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth's atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, clouds and (to some extent) aerosols absorb radiation from the surface of the Earth and emit infrared radiation in all directions.


Greenhouse gases are gases in the Earth's atmosphere that absorb heat from the sun. The key greenhouse gases include water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3).


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 favorable company image, positive messages are communicated selectively, without the full disclosure of related issues.


Land degradation is the decline of land surface, including biodiversity loss and damage to ecosystems, largely caused by human activities. Land degradation currently causes around 23% reduction of productivity across the world’s surface and experts estimate that around 3.2 billion people are negatively affected by its consequences.


Landfill is an area of land where waste is buried under layers of earth. It is estimated that only around a quarter of used clothing globally gets reused or recycled, and while recycling collection rates differ significantly between regions, a global average of approximately 75% of discarded clothes end up either in incineration or are deposited in landfills.


Life cycle assessment (LCA), also known as life cycle analysis, is a comparative methodology for assessing the environmental impacts linked to all stages of product life cycle, from raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, retail and use to disposal and end of life. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a growing area of study that has also led to numerous research and industry initiatives to identify which stages of the clothing lifecycle incur the most significant environmental impact.


Clothing made in a local market. Buying locally made clothes is a way to make your shopping a bit greener, support local businesses, strengthen the economy at home, and build relationships within the community. It’s also a great way to find alternative, one-of-a-kind fashion, such as up-cycled or handmade items.


Microfibers are fibers less than 5 mm in size, that are shed from textiles and clothing during all stages of their life cycle, from production through to use and disposal.(1) While microfibers are shed from both natural materials and synthetic materials, synthetics such as polyester, nylon or acrylic are linked to shedding a specific subset of microfibers called microplastics (plastic particles less than 5 mm in size). It is estimated that as much as 20-35% of all primary source microplastics in the oceans are from synthetic textiles and the tendency is increasing.


Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5mm in size. They are increasingly present in the environment, mainly as a result of microfiber pollution from washing synthetic clothing and the decomposition of plastic packaging waste. Microplastics are a major source of ocean pollution, and are often consumed by marine organisms. As they enter food chains, microplastics are also potentially detrimental to human health.


Natural materials fall into two large categories: cellulose- or plant-based (e.g. cotton, hemp, linen) and protein- or animal-based (e.g. wool, silk, leather, down). While they often tend to be labeled as the "good" and preferable alternative to synthetic materials, social and environmental impacts of all materials vary in relation to where they come from and how they are produced.


Non-renewable resources are natural resources that do not have the capacity to regrow or replenish their original levels after exploitation.


Overconsumption is a mode of excessive consumption, that outpaces both the real needs of people and the capacity of the global ecosystems to regenerate. 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. 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.


Packaging is the protective layer of material that covers goods in various stages of their manufacturing, distribution, sale and use.


Plastics are man-made materials with a polymeric (macromolecular) structure that lends them their moldable properties and plasticity. The majority of plastics in circulation are fossil-based organic polymers obtained from petrochemicals. While plastic recycling has become a popular option in addressing the plastic pollution crisis, it is also important to note that most plastic materials are still either incinerated or end up in landfills and illegal dumps, where they take several centuries to degrade.


Post-consumer waste is waste generated after a product has reached its target user. Examples include used and worn-out clothing and accessories, but also valuable new items that were purchased and discarded without having ever been used.


Pre-consumer waste is waste generated before a product has reached its target user. Examples include fabric and leather offcuts from the manufacturing process as well as excess stock of fabrics and unsold finished products.


Recycling is a way of diverting waste from landfill and incineration by converting discarded materials or products into new items by regenerating materials for a new use.


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.


Rental is an emerging business model based on sharing fashion goods instead of their individual ownership. With the increased public awareness of the environmental and social impacts of fashion, co-ownership initiatives and sharing economy that have already disrupted other sectors are also gaining popularity in fashion. Rental can increase the use rates of under-used items and it potentially delays their premature discarding and depositing in landfills. In this way, rental aligns with with one of the main principles of circular economy - keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible.


It means taking an item and giving it a new or different purpose. With clothes this means that instead of throwing an item away because it is out of fashion they are turned into something desirable and useful. Almost any type of clothing can be repurposed. The fabric content alone means that clothing can be resown or used to make quilts or for patchwork projects. However, with a little creativity, clothes can be transformed into practical items or stunning works of art.


Re-use is a way of extending clothing lifetimes by keeping them in use for as long as possible. 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. Re-use, on the other hand, encourages long-lasting relationships with clothes through sustained active use and careful clothing care, including repairs and alterations that can give unused items a new lease of life. Where use by the original owner is no longer possible, clothes can be given second and third lives through gifting or swapping with family, friends and local communities, upcycling, sharing, rental, re-commerce or charity donations.


Multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at work.


Pieces of clothes to wear now and forever. The reasoning? All the pieces should fit together in one closet you never feel the need to ditch or replace.


A secondhand or used good is one that is being purchased by or otherwise transferred to a second or later end user. It is considered an important way to spread sustainable consumption.


The movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. It encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste. By adding transparency about production process and educating consumers about the craft of making clothing, slow fashion companies hope consumers will begin to understand what is required of producing a well-made garment.


It is defined as a particular way of doing or saying something, or refers to a unique form of clothing or way of arranging your appearance. In other words, the manner in which something is expressed or performed, considered as separate from its intrinsic content, meaning, etc.


Supply chain refers to all the processes, organizations and individuals involved in turning raw materials into finished products and delivering them to customers.


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.


Sustainable fashion is a process of change in the ways of thinking and practices of design, production, communication, wearing and enjoying fashion, that values diversity, prosperity and well-being of both people and the environment. It highlights the interdependence of individual, social, environmental, cultural and economic implications of fashion, and so questions the status quo of the industry that still prioritizes profit over vital social and environmental concerns. To make a true impact in fashion and sustainability, we must therefore stop focusing on such temporary fixes and symptoms and instead commit to finding long-term solutions that address the underlying causes of waste and environmental and social costs of fashion. This means a radical “unlearning of fashion-as-we-know-it” by uprooting the logic of endless growth, overproduction and overconsumption, and instead finding new and richer ways of enjoying and giving value to fashion.


It represents all things “eco”, “ethical” and “green” in one unified movement. The ‘slow approach’ of the sustainable fashion movement intervenes as a revolutionary process in the contemporary world because it encourages taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment.


The term sustainable materials, in a broad sense, refers to materials that can be sourced without depletion of non-renewable resources and that can be produced, used and disposed of in required quantities without causing harm to both people and the environment. While natural materials have often been labeled as the “good” and more sustainable alternative to synthetic materials, it is important to recognize that social and environmental impacts of all materials vary, depending on where they come from and how they are produced, used and discarded.


Manufacturing facilities, usually in developing countries, that violate basic human rights making its employees work under harsh and often hazardous conditions, and pay only minimum or survival wages.


Synthetic materials are manufactured from either natural polymers (e.g. viscose, lyocell, acetate) or synthetic polymers (e.g. polyester, nylon, acrylic). The manufacturing processes rely on heavy use of chemicals, high energy use and depletion of non-renewable resources. Burning of fossil fuels to power chemical plants also generates high volumes of CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


Textile waste is a material that is deemed unusable for its original purpose by the owner. Textile waste can include fashion and textile industry waste, created during fibre, textile and clothing production, and consumer waste, created during consumer use and disposal.


Retailers that sell used secondhand clothes and other household goods, most often to raise money for charity.


Lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.  Corporate transparency describes the extent to which a corporation’s actions are observable by outsiders. To increment transparency, corporations infuse greater disclosure, clarity, and accuracy into their communications with stakeholders.


A term used for fashion items and objects which are created from used, thrown-out and recycled elements.


Upcycling is a form of recycling in which discarded materials or products are converted into items of higher value than the original input. Examples include the use of pre-consumer waste materials such as scraps of leather, polyester or neoprene from the outerwear industry to make bags and other accessories, or re-purposing good-quality older clothing into new items. Upcycling hinges on effective information flows and the availability of quality pre- and post-consumer waste materials. Thoughtful design, public awareness and acceptance of re-used materials are also necessary pre-conditions enabling the viability of upcycling practices.


Garments that are at least 20 years old that have a recognizable look that communicates the style of an earlier decade. The key to this definition is that the garment is really 20+ years old rather than a newer reproduction of an older look. Thus, “vintage” as a concept is closely linked with authenticity.


Waste refers to materials discarded for being unwanted, surplus to requirements, or unusable. Waste associated with the fashion industry includes, but is not limited to, offcuts from the manufacturing process, excess stock of both fabrics and products that have not sold, excessive packaging, and unused products once purchased.


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.


Water use is the volume of fresh water used by individuals and businesses. This includes both water consumed and water polluted in the process of meeting the needs and demand for producing goods and services for individuals and communities globally.


The indigenous fauna and flora of a region.


It is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. No trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. The process recommended is one similar to the way that resources are reused in nature.

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