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Buy Less, But Better: Sustainable Fashion Jargon Explained

Do you know your vegan from your biodegradable? Consider this your eco-glossary


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You successfully completed second-hand September last year (without even pining after a fast fashion retail fix), call out your friend for using a plastic straw in the pub and (according to Instagram) vow to take more trains over planes this year to minimise your environmental footprint. So far, you are feeling pretty pleased with your green-credentials. There’s just the, um, greyish area of sustainable fashion that needs a little tending to. To be fair, it’s pretty confusing, with a slew of lexicons to contend with in 2020.

Sure, you’ve flirted with the idea of eschewing shiny, new things in favour of going 100% vintage. But - like many of us - you know this may not last. And you do actually like shiny, new things. So studiously you seek out garms that are cleaner, greener and guilt-free. The issue is that now so many brands tout their collections as simply ‘sustainable’, without proper explanation of what this means in a wider content.

With this in mind, we called on eco-warrior Jemma Finch - founder of Stories Behind Things, who champions innovative and sustainable ways of consuming - on the labels to look out for on your next shopping trip, from vegan to upcycling.


Jemma Says: “Vegan (meaning no animal products were used in making the garments) is a great place to start to make your closet more eco-friendly. Though you should also be mindful that the substitutes the brand are using aren’t derived from plastic - this is often found in the leather vs pleather conversation.” Look out for PETA Certified Vegan logo and brands creating products made from recycled plastic and natural waste.



Jemma Says: “Circular fashion is a broad term so be careful when it's being used, sense check yourself and think about whether this brand may be using the term as a marketing tool.” Adding that, “circular fashion can include a cradle-to-cradle production meaning that the end life of the product was kept in mind when making the piece - which enables the piece to either be biodegradable (fabrics such as silk, wool and hemp which can easily decompose into natural elements) or to be used effectively for something else at the end of its life.”


Jemma Says: “Making clothing from waste or upcycling from off-cuts is an effective way of producing small batches of clothing or accessories. Many lingerie brands do this by using off-cut lace and waste elastic to make the most beautiful pieces.”


Jemma Says: “Making sure something is Fair Trade Certified (meaning that employees and producers have received a fair price for the product or their work) is key. Especially when we are discussing materials like cotton where it is extremely labour intensive. This should be stated clearly on the label.”


Jemma Says: “Seeing the organic materials certification offers the assurance from a trusted third-party about the authenticity of products; and assured they have been grown and produced without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides. Definitely organic cotton, jute, silk or wool is something you should be looking out for when shopping.” Look out for items that are GOTS certified – only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres meet this criteria. 

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