Each day we see more and more words being thrown at us - ethical fashion, eco fashion, vegan fashion, sustainable, fair trade, ethical, slow fashion - the list is endless. It's hard not to get overwhelmed with it all and not know where to start, particularly if you're trying to make a shift towards a more conscious lifestyle (hehe, yes, that's one more term for you).
So, let's try to simplify it.
The first thing to understand is that most of these terms are not interchangeable. For example, vegan is not necessarily cruelty-free, and vice versa. It becomes important to understand the meaning of each term so that you're not tricked into buying anything that doesn't fully match your values.
Sustainable is probably the broadest and deepest of all the terms we're going to talk about. According to Wikipedia, Sustainable fashion is a part of the growing design philosophy and movement towards environmental and social sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility.
To simplify that, anything sustainable keeps the future in mind - environmentally, socially and economically. Let's take recycled polyester for example. Though polyester can't be counted as an eco-friendly material, when it is recycled multiple times thereby increasing its life, it can be considered as sustainable. There is a whole debate of course about the fact that recycled polyesters could be releasing micro-fibres into water during washes, but we won't get into that right now. We're just using this as an example to illustrate the difference between the two terms.
For a product to be 100% sustainable is practically impossible today, but some products are definitely a lot more sustainable than others. Eco-friendly is not as broad, and just means things that are not harming the planet in any way. Natural-based materials come under this classification.
Ethical Fashion is mostly concerned with the welfare of the artisans and people in the entire supply chain. It includes considerations such as fair wages, working conditions and the like.
Slow fashion on the other hand is more linked with building quality products, which have a longer life cycle. Slow Fashion shoppers are those who buy products keeping in mind how well they will last and how often they will use it. The focus is on quality over quantity and a value of Buy Less, Buy Better. Slow Fashion is often (but not necessarily) ethical.
Conscious refers to consumers who have a high regard for ethical and environmental issues and try to make informed purchases. It can also refer to brands who are vocal and transparent about their manufacturing and labour, encouraging customers to make the right purchases.
As we mentioned earlier, though these two terms are often used interchangeably, they don't refer to the exact same thing.
The word vegan is concerned with the use of animal products. Vegan refers to any product that has no animal derivative used in its manufacturing or ingredients.
Cruelty-free on the other hand is more concerned with animal testing, particularly in the make up industry. There could be cruelty-free products that are not vegan. For example, a lip balm that uses beeswax, but was not tested on animals.
If animal welfare is something that you hold of high value, make sure you always check for products that are BOTH vegan and cruelty-free.
The main difference here is that Organic products are usually certified, which means they come with a higher level of trust. Many cotton fabrics are called Natural to give them the impression of being eco-friendly, but the process uses synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and dyes. Organic-certified fabrics use no synthetics at any stage in the process. There are bodies like GOTS that certify fabrics that meet these conditions.
An all too common practice these days, greenwashing is the act of a brand claiming to be sustainable/eco/ethical, when in fact it is not. With the movement of sustainable fashion gaining more momentum, and consumers making more informed purchases, brands are trying to ride the wave with many fraud claims. It becomes important then to understand what the subtle differences are between each of these terms, and ask brands the right questions. Each purchase we make is a vote.
If you're wondering about Arture, our brand is Sustainable (as far as we can be right now), eco-friendly, vegan, cruelty-free, eco-friendly, ethical, Slow and Conscious. And we use organic cotton linings, and organic hemp in some of our bags.
If you have any questions for us, leave a comment and we'd be happy to answer them. :)