Fashion Greenwashing Glossary: What Do ‘Circular’, ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Zero Waste’ Really Mean? | Fashion

With the rise of fast fashion and the impact it has on the planet, many fashion brands have taken to buzzwords like ‘circular’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘zero waste’ to market their products as eco-friendly. However, these terms are often used without clear definitions, leading to greenwashing – a form of marketing that makes claims about environmental benefits that are difficult to substantiate.

In this article, we will provide a clear definition of these terms to help you understand what they really mean.

Circular Fashion

Circular fashion is a term used to describe a process where the waste from one production cycle is repurposed to become the raw material for another production cycle. It is an attempt to reduce the amount of waste produced during the manufacturing process, thus promoting waste reduction.

Circular fashion is based on the principles of the circular economy, which aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while they are in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion is a broad term that describes clothing, shoes, and accessories that are designed and produced with the aim of improving social and environmental impacts. It is an attempt to address the negative environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry adopting practices that minimize waste and reduce pollution.

Sustainable fashion encompasses a wide range of practices including using environmentally friendly materials like organic cotton, reducing energy use during production, and promoting human rights and fair labor practices.

Zero Waste Fashion

Zero waste fashion is a term used to describe clothing, shoes, and accessories that are designed and produced with the goal of creating no waste during the manufacturing process. It is an attempt to minimize environmental harm reducing the amount of waste produced during production and disposal.

Zero waste fashion is achieved through various practices, including using leftover fabric to create new garments, designing garments that require fewer materials, and upcycling existing textiles.

Greenwashing in Fashion

Greenwashing is a term used to describe the act of making false or exaggerated claims about the environmental benefits of a product or service. It is a deceptive marketing tactic that aims to capitalize on consumer interest in eco-friendly products without actually delivering on those promises.

The fashion industry is particularly vulnerable to greenwashing due to its complex supply chain and opaque manufacturing practices. Many fashion brands use terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘circular’, and ‘zero waste’ as buzzwords to attract consumers without providing clear definitions or concrete evidence to support their claims.

How to Spot Greenwashing in Fashion

To avoid falling for misleading marketing tactics, it is important to know how to spot greenwashing in fashion. Here are some tips to help you identify greenwashing:

– Look for specific descriptions and details of a product’s environmental benefits. Vague claims like ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ should be treated with skepticism.
– Check for third-party certifications or independent verification of a brand’s environmental claims.
– Investigate a brand’s supply chain and production practices to determine if they align with their environmental claims.
– Be wary of products that claim to be ‘100% eco-friendly’. Most products have some environmental impact, and it is impossible to be completely eco-friendly.
– Look for transparency and openness from brands. Brands that are truly committed to sustainability should be eager to share their production practices and supply chain.


With the impact of the fashion industry on the environment becoming increasingly clear, it is important to be aware of the marketing tactics used fashion brands. Terms like ‘circular’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘zero waste’ are often used without clear definitions, leading to greenwashing.

By understanding these terms and knowing how to spot greenwashing, consumers can make informed decisions and support truly sustainable fashion.