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15 Ethical Fashion Terms You Should Know


GLOSSARY ROUNDUP: If you're subscribed to our Ethical Fashion newsletter (which you should be!), you'll know we've been sharing key ethical fashion terms that we get asked about most often, or that are most important for you to know. We've created a roundup for easy reference:

Ethical Fashion: 

We like to think of ethical fashion as the umbrella under which other terms exist. Ethical fashion includes consumer behaviors and production approaches good for people and/or the planet. This includes slow fashion, sustainable fashion, etc. Think of this as the hub, and everything else as the spokes.

Slow Fashion: 

Slow fashion relates directly to the manufacturing process. It is the opposite of “fast fashion” which aims to turn around as many new styles as quickly as possible. Slow fashion is a more pre-industrial revolution approach, where items were produced with higher quality materials and meant to last over long periods of time.

Sustainable Fashion: 

Sustainable fashion relates directly to the environmental impact of fashion. Sustainability includes things like recycled materials, water use in manufacturing, shopping vintage. All of these approaches contribute to a more sustainable approach to fashion.

Living Wage: 

A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to afford their basic needs: housing, transportation, food, medical care. This is calculated based on location and is most often much higher than the minimum wage—the legal minimum companies are required to pay workers. This gap is why workers with full-time jobs often live in poverty (which is unacceptable IMHO). Consider this: 98% of fashion workers are not paid living wages.


Transparency is visibility into a company’s labor practices, supply chain, wages, etc. Be careful about “transparency” claims though—some companies use this but don’t actually give substantive information. Saying where something is made without giving any insight into how the workers are treated or a factory’s sustainability practices is not actually very transparent. It might be a good first step, but let’s demand more.


Compliance refers to adhering to the laws—labor laws, minimum wage laws, etc—in location of operation. The problem: in many places the laws don’t do enough to protect workers. For example, Ethiopia has no minimum wage, which means that a company could be “compliant” but not be operating ethically.

Supply Chain: 

Essentially, this is the system that creates and delivers a product. It includes all of the manufacturers, organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer. Everything from the producers of raw materials to factories to warehouses that store product, and retailers that sell it. 

Tier 1 Suppliers (A): 

This is typically the supplier a brand is directly working with. They have a contract in place and usually are responsible for creating the "finished good" and/or a component of the product the brand is selling.

Tier 2 Suppliers (B): 

This is typically the supplier Supplier A is working with - to either provide a component of the end product and/or raw materials; or to complete some of the work Supplier A is commissioned to do. This supplier usually has no direct contract/relationship with the brand. 

Tier 3 Suppliers (C): 

A supplier that Supplier B is working with. This can go on and on… you get the gist.


This allows a brand to track a product from raw material to finished good, connecting their entire supply chain. Often a brand only has visibility into its Tier 1 Suppliers, which limits their ability to understand the environmental and social impact of their full supply chain. Traceability is a crucial aspect of advancing ethical practices in the fashion industry and increasing our impact on workers.


This is the practice of over-exaggerating or misleading consumers about a company’s sustainability efforts. It mostly applies to companies whose environmental efforts were deployed as a marketing strategy to capitalize on the growing consumer trends around sustainability, rather than a true commitment to protecting the planet. They’re essentially posing as “green” companies but really aren’t, which sucks.

Fair Trade: 

Fair Trade is a global movement and trading partnership aimed at improving the trading conditions for marginalized workers in developing countries and seeking greater equity in international trade. While Fair Trade is a larger movement, there are several organizations that are official labelling organizations and certifiers for products/producers. 


This is based on the concept of a circular economy, which is a supply chain concept that is restorative in nature and includes the entire life cycle of a product. Essentially it means that products should be designed both to eliminate the negative impact on the environment in any way and contribute to positive/regenerative solutions. In fashion that means high longevity, resource efficiency, non-toxicity, biodegradability, recyclability and ethical practices.


Deadstock fabrics are essentially leftovers. When brands find themselves with leftover fabric, they usually keep it for a short time and then it ends up in the landfill. Utilizing deadstock fabrics makes fashion more sustainable by reducing waste. It doesn’t eliminate waste, and it’s not the most sustainable model, but it certainly contributes to the reduction of the overall problem. Beware of greenwashing with companies touting the use of deadstocks—alone it does not make a company “ethical.”

  • Kristin Moler on

    Thank you so much! This was very informative and extremely helpful!

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