What Is Sustainable Fashion, Exactly? Jargon-Free Guide

Giada Nizzoli

(last updated at )

What Is Sustainable Fashion, Exactly? Jargon-Free Guide

The fact that you want to understand what sustainable fashion is tells us one thing: you’re one of the good ones!

Those who want to improve their consumer habits—even when everything around them is telling them to buy more fast fashion clothes without questioning it.

Well done, you!

But at the same time, we know it can feel confusing: what is sustainable fashion in practice?

After all, you’ve already bumped into many terms that sound so similar, from sustainable clothes to ethical fashion and more. 

So, we compiled a jargon-free article to walk you through what exactly sustainable fashion is, why it matters, and how you can get started.

Sustainable fashion in simple words

Rack with sustainable fashion clothes

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion involves clothes and accessories made in an eco-friendly way

Ideally, the goal is to have the lowest possible environmental footprint at every stage of the product’s lifecycle: design, extraction or production of the raw material, manufacturing, distribution chain, marketing, sale and use by the consumers.

What is an example of sustainability in fashion?

There isn’t just ‘one way’ of making clothes eco-friendly and ethical, but some popular examples of sustainability in fashion are:

  • Choosing materials that are kind to the environment – Most fast fashion clothes are made with cotton or polyester, which are the worst for the planet. Sustainable fashion, on the other hand, prioritises the most eco-friendly fabrics, like recycled cotton, hemp, linen, or certified organic cotton 
  • Upcycling or using recycled materials– Many brands reduce textile waste and carbon emissions by turning old fabrics and items into new clothes or accessories 
  • Promoting circularity – Keeping clothes in circulation for longer reduces waste and their environmental footprint. So, many brands are now designing garments so that they can actually be recycled, or they offer take-back schemes
  • Slow fashion – Sustainable and slow fashion usually go hand in hand. However, with the latter, the focus is more on consumers’ shopping habits and how these clothes are marketed. It’s about reducing consumption, choosing fewer but timeless clothes, and keeping them for years

How is sustainable fashion different from fast fashion?

Landfill full of textile waste to show why sustainable fashion is important

Sustainable fashion can be seen as the opposite of fast fashion: it takes the environment (and garment workers) into account when designing, producing, and marketing clothes

Instead, fast fashion’s entire business model relies on:

  • Churning out new clothes to follow trends
  • Using the cheapest materials (without worrying about the environment) and exploiting workers to keep price tags low
  • Designing garments so that they fall apart after a few wearings 
  • Pushing consumers to buy new clothes regularly and discard their old ones (no wonder it results in 92 million TONNES of waste every year!)

With sustainable fashion, clothes are eco-friendly and made to last.
With fast fashion, they’re disposable and produced irresponsibly. 

In most cases, keeping clothing production sustainable and paying everyone fair wages = more expensive clothes

But now that you know the real cost behind fast fashion’s cheap price tags, here’s what we recommend focusing on: cost per wear.

When you buy fewer higher-quality items and rewear them for years? You can actually save money in the long run!

So, why is sustainable fashion important?

Sustainable fashion is important because… well, fast fashion just isn’t sustainable!

It has a terrible impact on the environment, exploits garment workers, and keeps consumers trapped in a vicious cycle: needing to buy new clothes regularly to be happy.

Instead, here’s what sustainable fashion is all about and what it encourages you to do:

  • Choose clothes that were made responsibly
  • Support brands that care about the environment and garment workers
  • Fall in love with fewer items that actually match your style, and keep them for longer

Much better, right? 

What’s the difference between ethical and sustainable fashion?

In our opinion, there shouldn’t be one! 

Garment worker sewing to highlight the difference between ethical clothes and what sustainable fashion is

Technically, the difference between ethical and sustainable fashion is that:

    • Ethical fashion prioritises the humanitarian side, especially during the production phase – These brands go the extra mile to ensure that their workers are treated fairly, paid adequate wages, and guaranteed safe working conditions. Ethical fashion can also be used to refer to cruelty-free and vegan clothes (= not involving the use of animal products or by-products)
    • Sustainable fashion focuses on the environmental side of things

However, at Project Cece, we don’t think sustainable fashion can really exist if a brand ignores the ethical side of production.

An organic cotton jumper might sound better than one made with petroleum-derived polyester… but not if it was produced by children or workers without proper rights!

How to embrace sustainable fashion in 5 steps

Friends switching to sustainable fashion and laughing together

  1. Keep in mind that it’s a process – It won’t happen overnight, and it’s totally normal to still feel tempted by fast fashion. So, bookmark our simple guide on what sustainable fashion is so that you can go back to it whenever you need to
  2. Start with a mindset change – Buying the same number of clothes from sustainable brands wouldn’t solve the issue. The real problem is overconsumption! So, decide that you’re only going to invest in fewer clothes that actually feel like you (maybe you can discover your signature style first?)
  3. Remove distractions – Consider deleting shopping apps and unfollowing fast fashion accounts or influencers who promote overconsumption
  4. Learn how to check if a brand is sustainable – Look for eco-friendly materials, third-party certifications, and transparency
  5. Fall in love with your clothes – Stop seeing them as disposable, and look after them to help them last longer

So, you’re clear on what sustainable fashion is, but… where can you actually find it?

Good news: right here on Project Cece!

We brought hundreds of fair trade brands in one place and added filters to narrow down your choices.

So, it’ll be a breeze to find garments and accessories that match both your style and ethical preferences!

Now that you know what sustainable fashion means, you’ll also notice that… it’s constantly evolving! The most resourceful designers and companies are always coming up with new ways to do better for the environment. 

Sustainable fashion is a journey. And we’re so glad you’ll be sharing it with us!

Found this helpful? Start receiving our tips and inspiration to make even more ethical fashion choices.

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Project Cece is a platform that collects ethical fashion from vetted brands and shops in one place. Browse ethical fashion for women and men and find items that fit your style, budget and values!

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