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.”

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. 

Benefit Corporation:

Benefit corporations and Certified B Corps are two designations that are often confused, especially since many companies are both. We’re here to help. A benefit corporation is a legal structure for a business, like an LLC or a corporation. Performance is self-reported and the legal designation is only available in 30 US States and DC.

Certified B Corporations:

The B Corp Certification is a third-party certification administered by the non-profit B Lab. Whereas the performance of a benefit corporation is self-reported, a certified B Corp must achieve a minimum verified score on B Impact Assessment, and recertification is required every three years. Corporations can meet the legal requirement for B Corp certification by using the benefit corporation legal structure.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They were set by the United Nations (UN) and adopted by all 193 member states. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030.

United Nations (UN):

The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 and is currently made up of 193 Member States. It’s charter allows it to take action on the issues confronting humanity in the 21st century, such as peace and security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian and health emergencies, gender equality, governance, food production, and more.

Capsule Wardrobe:

A capsule wardrobe is basically the building blocks of your wardrobe, the collection of essential items that don't go out of fashion and can be paired with other (often seasonal) pieces to create new, interesting looks without having to recreate your entire wardrobe.  

Social Enterprise:

According to Investopedia, “A social enterprise or social business is defined as a business that has specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose. Social enterprises seek to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to society and the environment. Their profits are principally used to fund social programs.”

Double bottom line:

A company’s bottom line is basically their net earnings or net profits. This is usually the most important metric to measure a company’s success. A company with a “double bottom line” means they’ve added a second “bottom line” that measures positive social impact. This essentially means that profits and impact hold equal weight in determining if they are “successful.”

Black Friday:

The informal name of the biggest shopping day of the year, and the kickoff to the biggest shopping weekend of the year. The Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is usually when you can find the best deals of the year, at pretty much any retailer or brand. But just because you can get deals doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for making mindful shopping choices. Before you do all your shopping, do your research and try to make purchases that support sustainable and ethical brands.

Cyber Monday:

The other bookend to the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Cyber Monday is the Monday after Thanksgiving, and is celebrated as the online shopping version of Black Friday. It’s the busiest retail weekend of the year—can you imagine what would happen if everyone decided to vote with their dollars this year?

June 28, 2019 — Kathleen Rodgers


Kristin Moler said:

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

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