Sustainable Fashion Vs Ethical Fashion Vs Circular Fashion

Fast Fashion to Sustainable Fashion

Despite the fact that interest in sustainable fashion and circular fashion has been rising, fast fashion still dominates both high streets and our wardrobes as it has done for the last 20-something years.

‘It’s when Zara landed in New York at the beginning of the 1990s, that people first heard the term ‘Fast Fashion’. It was coined by the New York Times to describe Zara’s mission to only take 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores.’ — Good On You.

In theory, it’s great — you can buy on-trend fashion for cheap just a few weeks after the styles first appear on the runway. But, the true cost of fast fashion goes much further than the £5 it costs you to buy a new t-shirt.

In recent years people have become increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of the industry. Some of the most polluted rivers in the world are filled with chemicals dumped by textile factories. Plus, millions of tonnes of textile waste end up in landfills each year.

As if that’s not bad enough, according to the United Nations, the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined. It’s long supply chains and high energy consumption means it contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

As people become more aware of this damage, they are becoming more conscious about the brands they buy from and what they are supporting with their purchases. Just look at what happened to Forever 21.

Consumers are demanding more transparency in the supply chain so they can make up their own minds about the impact the clothes they buy are having. But, as it stands today, navigating the industry to find a sustainable fashion option is an absolute minefield.

There are so many different terms and buzzwords thrown around, what does it all mean?

We have been doing some research to see if we can clear things up a bit for our own sanity, and we hope our findings will help you too.

What’s the difference between sustainable fashion, circular fashion, and ethical fashion?


Sustainable fashion is perhaps the most commonly used buzzword in the industry right now. It refers to the impact of fashion on the environment, covering issues such as pollution, water use, and waste production. It’s all about creating products that have the lowest possible negative impact on the environment.

As it stands, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be a sustainable fashion brand, especially on a large scale. What brands can do is be transparent about their sustainability mission and do best to be more sustainable. We can always strive to do better!


Circular fashion is a relatively new concept within the fashion industry. It refers to clothes, shoes, and accessories that are ‘designed with high longevity, resource efficiency, non-toxicity, biodegradability, recyclability and good ethics in mind’. It’s all about keeping items and materials in circulation instead of always creating new ones.

A big element of circular fashion is extending the lifespan of garments through good care, repair & refurbishment, or passing through multiple users (second-hand fashion is a great example of this). After all, extending the life span of clothing can go a long way to reducing the environmental impact of individual pieces.


Ethical fashion is an umbrella term that primarily refers to the treatment of people throughout the fashion supply and production process, from the people growing cotton to those manufacturing the clothes. Ethical fashion is made without the use of sweatshops, child labor or the abuse of workers (isn’t it sad that we even need a term for that?).

It can also extend to include the treatment of animals and the environmental impact as well. The V&A Museum has a great definition:

‘Ethical fashion is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.’

So, here’s a quick summary:

Ethical Fashion — concerns human rights.

Sustainable Fashion — concerns the environment.

Circular Fashion — keeping existing items in circulation.

I hope that cleared things up a bit?

All of these options are preferable to the traditional fast-fashion model, and the more steps brands take towards a sustainable future for the fashion industry the better.




Co-Founder Pantee | Writing about sustainable and circular fashion

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Katie McCourt

Katie McCourt

Co-Founder Pantee | Writing about sustainable and circular fashion

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