We live in a world where brands use buzzwords to get our attention. Ethical. Sustainable. All-natural. Organic. Vegan. Cruelty-free.
If you’re not an insider in the fashion industry, you may find yourself swimming in these terms. What do they actually mean? How do they impact you as a consumer? What should you be looking out for as you aspire to use your purchasing power for good?
Don’t worry — Remake’s got you covered! In this sustainable fashion glossary we’ll demystify the most common buzzwords floating around the fashion industry today, helping you build your knowledge as you continue to champion ethical and sustainable fashion.
Sustainable: You hear this word all the time, but what does it really mean, and how does it relate to the clothes you wear? According to Merriam-Webster, sustainability is “using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”
Pouring factory run-off chemicals into the water during the manufacturing process? Not sustainable. Unsafe working conditions and insufficient wages for garment workers? Not sustainable. Non-renewable materials in products? Not sustainable.
Any company can claim that they’re sustainable as there is no formal checklist or certification to use the term. If you have doubts about a self-proclaiming sustainable company, ask questions about their manufacturing and labor practices.
Greenwashing: When a brand claims that they employ sustainable practices, but they don’t.. As consumers demand more ethical and sustainable business practices, brands use greenwashing as a marketing strategy to boost their sustainable image.
We’re seeing a trend: any brand can use terms such as “green,” “ethical,” “environmentally-friendly,” or other sustainability-related buzzwords to greenwash their products. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult for consumers to know the true practices and values of a brand.
Circularity: As it implies, circularity refers to a system that operates in a circular manner with as few outputs (waste) leaving the system as possible. So what is circular fashion? When brands use processes that minimize waste creation. Materials are repaired, reused, upcycled, recycled rather than ending up in a landfill.
In addition to material use, Common Objective defines a circular fashion industry as one in which “waste and pollution are designed out” and “where natural systems are regenerated.”
Pro-Tip: circularity doesn’t just have to apply to brands. You can think of your own wardrobe with the same principles of circularity. Are you adding items to your wardrobe that have been recycled, upcycled, or produced with sustainable practices? Do you repair and mend? Do you swap and exchange items when you’re done with them? You can minimize the waste you generate if you embrace circularity in your wardrobe.
Made in the USA: If you see this label, it must mean that the garment workers were paid and treated fairly, right? You are confident that exploitation and unsafe working conditions in production only happens in countries that don’t have enforced labor standards?
Unfortunately, Made in the USA does not automatically equal ethical and fair labor practices.
According to the Garment Worker Center, in the Los Angeles garment industry, around 85% of garment workers make less than minimum wage. Learn more about Los Angeles’s garment sector here.
How can you know if your “Made in the USA” brand is an ethical brand? Visit Remake’s Brand Directory to get the lowdown on the ethical and sustainable practices of individual brands that manufacture in the US.
Piece Rate: Piece rate pay occurs when employers pay employees per unit of production instead of an hourly wage or salary. According to the United States Department of Labor, piece rate payment “must be enough to yield at least the minimum wage per hour.”
Piece rate payment would be all good and well if there was a guaranteed, enforceable method to ensure that workers received at least minimum wage through this payment system. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The Garment Worker Center estimates that “most garment workers work 60-70 hour weeks with a take home pay of about $300 dollars.” Do the math — this works out to an hourly wage somewhere between $4.28 and $5 — far below California’s minimum wage
So what can you do about it? Sign the petition to support the Garment Worker Protection Act. If this bill becomes law, garment workers will be assured minimum wage from their employers and no longer paid via piece rate.
Living Wage: A living wage is not the same as the minimum wage. In many places around the world, there is a significant difference between the minimum wage (a rate determined by the government) and a living wage (the actual wage you must earn to cover your basic needs).
What should someone be able to pay for with a living wage? Food, shelter, childcare, healthcare, and other basic necessities.
Brands that pay a living wage ensure that their employees are able to provide for their basic needs, and aren’t just meeting a government minimum wage requirement.
Fast Fashion: Merriam-Webster defines fast fashion as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”
Clothing is produced and consumed at an ever-increasing rate. Increased production and consumption lead to increased waste and environmental destruction. The social and environmental costs of fast fashion are tremendous.Untreated toxic wastewater pollution, materials created from fossil fuels, deforestation, and unsafe working conditions are just a few of the harmful effects of fast fashion.
How can you avoid fast fashion? Own fewer pieces of clothing and care for them. Purchase clothes from brands that employ sustainable and ethical practices. Swap. Reuse. Mend. Thrift. The sky’s the limit!
Fair Trade: While there is a myriad of formal certifications surrounding fair trade, the basic idea is that producers are paid equitably for their products. Fair trade focuses on ethical production and consumption, free from exploitation.
The opposite of fair trade is, well, unfair trade. In unfair trade, producers aren’t paid a fair price for their product.
Why is fair trade important? Our globalized economy is rife with exploitation. By purchasing items that are fairly traded, you ensure that your purchasing power benefits producers and does not perpetuate exploitation.
Upcycle: When we recycle, an existing product goes through a process to break down its materials, making space for a new product to be produced. When we upcycle, we make an existing product better by improving it.
Examples of Upcycling:
● Creating a new garment out of recycled, non-clothing fabrics (sheets, towels, etc.)
● Fashioning an existing piece of clothing into a new item
● Adding new embellishments (buttons, patches, beadwork)
● Taking two pre-loved garments and repurposing them into a new item
With complicated supply chains and flashy marketing, being an ethical and sustainable consumer can feel overwhelming. As you continue in your journey, know that you will learn and make mistakes — what’s important is that you keep pressing on! As we consumers continue to ask questions, put pressure on brands, and demand better for the women making our clothes, change is sure to follow.
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