Fifty Shades of Green: Your A-Z Guide to Sustainable Fashion

How eco-conscious is your style? Are you recycling, upcycling and supporting workers rights? Run through this green glossary to see how you can make positive fashion decisions.

By | January 9, 2021

Conscious fashion is more than just wearing recycled cotton—it’s about respect for humanity and the world. From new advancements in biodegradable fabrics to master artisans preserving traditional crafts, sustainability has never looked chicer. However, with it comes its own set of new—and sometimes confusing—technical terms: what is the difference between Lyocell, Tencel, and blend materials? How do you celebrate eco-fashion talent? Where and what should we be buying? We bring you a comprehensive list of the most useful terms in ethical fashion, and a primer to the exciting world of green living.

 

A: ARTISANAL

Describes the work by a skilled artisan, whose craft usually employs the dexterity of the hand paired with age-old traditions. Running the gamut from weavers in Colombia to embroiderers in India, many of these craftspeople are represented by fair trade organisations. In Malaysia, consider as your go-to Earth Heir, FugeeLah, and Tanoti Crafts, whose initiatives support underserved Malaysian and refugee communities. 

 

B: BLEND MATERIALS

Also known as composite materials, blend materials consist of a mixture of different textile fibres to improve its performance properties. Due to combination, the recycling of blend materials is challenging as it requires all of its component polymers to be separated. Pro tip: Check your clothes label before purchasing. If it’s not 100% mono-fibre, chances are it’ll most likely end up in a landfill. 

 

C: CARBON NEUTRAL

A result of carbon offsetting to “neutralize” C02 emissions, greenhouse gasses (GHGs) caused by individuals and organizations. Big fashion companies and B Corp brands are already championing this initiative, with some pledging clean energy methods or offering to plant more trees with every item sold. 

 

D: DOWNCYCLING

Think of it as reverse upcycling. Instead of recycling discarded materials into products of higher value (a Marine Serre dress, for example), downcycled items are converted into such items as industrial wipers and insulators.

 

E: ECONYL®

Recycled nylon made from fishing nets and industrial waste from landfills and oceans. And in case you missed it, in 2019, Prada collaborated with the Italian eco-nylon producer on a line of accessories inspired by the former’s archives. 

 

F: FISH LEATHER

Did you know that fish skin (not scales) is more durable than lamb or cow leather? In addition to that, fish leather companies like Atlantic Leather further implements the practice of circular economy by reusing waste from the food industry. Dior, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Jimmy Choo are already fans. 

 

G: GREENWASHING

A marketing strategy used by companies to create an illusion of sustainable practices, featuring (more often than not) misleading claims. Ever come across a brand who considers itself conscious, only to discover that a dress was made with polyester? Say it all together now, *GREENWASHING*.

 

H: HEMP

For the record, hemp is not marijuana. Unlike the latter, hemp is a fibre obtained from the inner bark of industrial hemp, and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fibre 50,000 years ago. Bonus points for its soil-enriching properties. For fashion enthusiasts, look no further than Stella McCartney, Mara Hoffman, and Dôen.

 

I: INCINERATION

The end game for 75% of used clothes in landfills. This means of destruction also releases dangerous levels of C02 emissions into the atmosphere, increasing the carbon footprint of fashion products. What’s more, the incineration of synthetic fibres produces toxic ash, which is also deposited into landfills and causes severe harm to human health through leakage. 

 

L: LYOCELL

Born out of the 1990s, Lyocell is a regenerated cellulose fibre which is also currently known as Tencel™. Its feel is similar to viscose, and its fibres are compostable and biodegradable under the right conditions.  

 

N: NYLON 6

The only synthetic fibre in the market which can be recycled in a closed-loop chemical process, giving it the ability to be repolymerized into multiple materials. If you really have to synth, make sure it’s this.

 

O: ORGANIC CONTENT STANDARD (OCS)

The certification you should look out for when picking out organic products. Launched in 2016, the Organic Content Standard verifies the volume of organically grown content in finished products.

P: PARAFFECTION

A subsidiary of Chanel founded in 1997, whose minority stakes in centuries-old ateliers ensure the heritage, manufacturing skills and livelihood of traditional artisans. Formed with slow fashion and artisanal craftsmanship in mind, Paraffection has since acquired 12 ateliers d’arts, including master embroiders Lesage, bespoke shoemakers Massaro, milliners Michel, and Scottish knitwear manufacturers Barrie.

 

R: RE-COMMERCE

Another word for re-sale, an emerging second-hand marketplace which involves the buying and selling of pre-owned fashion. Think Vestiaire Collective, The Real Real, or in Malaysia, Reebonz.

S: SLOW FASHION

The antidote to fast fashion. Typically, this involves the mantra of “buying less and spending more”, which includes the investing of quality pieces that lasts a lifetime.


T: TENCEL™

Made of lyocell, Tencel™ is derived from wood pulp obtained from wood grown and extracted under certified programmes. And it’s as comfortable as cashmere.


U: UPCYCLING

A form of recycling which turns scrap materials into pieces of higher value. Like a couture dress crafted from discarded fabric, or a utilitarian bomber jacket made out of surplus parachute fabric. It’s a fashion look now, to look as if you’re wearing re-appropriated old clothes, to cue Nicolas Ghesquiere’s retro-futurist aesthetic at Louis Vuitton.

V: VEGAN LEATHER

An alternative to animal-derived leather. But remember, not all vegan leathers are made equal. While 100% synthetic oil-based imitation leathers have high environmental impact, plant-based leathers – made out of cork, banana, mushroom, pineapple, coconut, or apple – are mostly produced from agriculture waste materials.

 

W: WATER POLLUTION

The reason you should be looking into conscious processing methods when it comes to fashion pieces. According to Condé Nast, water pollution by means of fashion is linked to chemicals used in textile production, microplastics during the use phase of clothing, and toxic leakages from landfills. Your best bet? Consider natural dyes from plants, and include non-toxic detergents into your laundry arsenal. Malaysians can shop responsibly from The Hive Bulk Foods, Frangipani, and BYOB for household essentials, Real.M environmentally-safe fashion pieces.

 

Z: ZERO WASTE

Not limited to the way we consume as individuals, but also as an approach to fashion design. In this context, zero waste products require fewer resources and fully utilise materials during production. Closer to home, the Little Clothing Shop in Malaysia does this best with every piece of garment made considerably by hand. 

Amy Yasmine

Amy Yasmine

A former Assistant Editor at Harper’s Bazaar Malaysia, Amy Yasmine has shifted her gaze from fashion to focus on sustainability and human rights. Today, she champions the indigenous tribes of Malaysia through multiple humanitarian programmes and is currently in pursuit of a coral propagation course in the name of marine conservation.