The Fashion Greenwashing Glossary

You're not alone if you've ever felt dumbfounded by the plethora of information about sustainable fashion.

Greenwashing is a tactic used by large corporations to disseminate deceptive or misleading information to present an environmentally responsible public image, and it's rampant within the fashion industry.

There is very little regulatory oversight, making it easy for fashion houses to use extremely vague-sounding names to market their products. Read on as we break down some of the fashion industry's most common greenwashing terms so that you can become a more discerning consumer. 

And remember, the most sustainable choice you can make in fashion is pre-loved!


For an item to biodegrade, it must be able to break up into small pieces and disintegrate at the end of its life cycle.

Technology to break down synthetic fibres is still in its infancy, and it's important to remember that materials such as polyester and nylon will take hundreds of years to disintegrate.

On the other hand, many natural fibres such as hemp, cotton, linen and silk should decompose much faster, but unfortunately, the reality is less straightforward. Fibres in their unprocessed raw state will certainly biodegrade; however, once they are treated and dyed, mixed with other fibres and then made into finished garments, this is often not the case. Furthermore, it's important to note that natural fibres often need super high temperatures or moisture to biodegrade, which is the environment in only some landfills. Even if they biodegrade, the dyes used to create colours often leave a toxic residue behind.

The term biodegradable is used too generously, and at present, there are no requirements for how long an item will decompose to be labelled as biodegradable (except in France).

One of our most-loved designers Lesleigh Jermanus of Alemais designs her garments using natural, organic fibres, including linen, ramie, hemp and cotton. Lesleigh envisions that her customers will either sell, swap or upcycle their used garments, but if they happen to be discarded, she wants them to break down into compost as quickly and naturally as possible.

Carbon Neutral

You may have heard of the terms "carbon neutral" or "net zero", which means that a company must take as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as it releases.

It is essential to note the distinction between companies that do this outside of their supply chain (by offsetting through cleaning up polluted rivers or planting trees) and those that strive to implement better systems and minimise emissions inside their supply chain. Companies must reduce their impact, not carry on wreaking havoc on the environment, and then clean up somewhere else so that their annual reports look better.

We are proud to stock brands like Maggie Marilyn, whose head designer Maggie Hewitt made a pivotal decision in 2020 to stop working with wholesalers and instead only sell directly to customers.

As she no longer needed to meet wholesale deadlines, she could ship to customers using sea freight rather than air mail and decrease the brand's carbon emissions by 73%. The brand is now completely carbon-positive. 


The term "organic" is often misused to label natural fibres such as hemp, cotton and linen. However, organic really means that no herbicides, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, synthetic dyes or petroleum-based materials exist in an item.

The Global Textile Standard is a valuable certification for identifying organic cotton, but there are many problems with various other certifications on the market today. Put simply, for a brand to truly call its garment organic, it must be able to pinpoint where the raw fibre was farmed. 


Regenerative fashion is clothing produced from raw fibres grown using regenerative farming methods.

Regenerative agriculture restores biodiversity, sequesters carbon, rebuilds soil organic matter and improves water cycles. A farm must tick all those boxes to be genuinely regenerative. There is a certification called the Regenerative Organic Certification, which was established in 2016, but worldwide, there are only 129 farms that have achieved this.

One of the biggest problems within the fashion industry is traceability - because it can be challenging to trace a garment's life back to the raw fibre from which it was created.

Our beloved Maggie Marilyn is proudly working with a revolutionary technology called FibreTrace.

They use blockchain technology in the form of luminescent pigment, which is then added to the fibre in the cotton ginning process (the process in which the fibre is removed from the cotton seed). The pigment is then used to track and trace the entire journey of the garment from fibre to store, ensuring claims a brand makes around things like the genesis of their fibre is substantiated. Maggie Marilyn works with a cotton farm called Good Earth Co. to produce their raw fibre, a farm championing regenerative farming practises and pioneering the use of FibreTrace.


Sustainable fashion is the primary term that is often thrown around and misused.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, environmental sustainability is:

"The degree to which a process or enterprise can be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources".

Businesses need to think holistically; installing LED lights and solar panels is not enough if you are polluting waterways and billowing plumes of toxic smoke into the air. The vast majority of sustainable fashion incentives can be described as "less bad" but still highly detrimental to our natural world.

Zero Waste

Zero waste should not be used to describe a business model or brand philosophy but as an individual practice used by a business to reduce waste.

The most usual zero waste practice is cutting fabric most efficiently to minimise leftovers. Another common practice is repurposing waste materials for upcycling or recycling. 


Bioplastics is a term often used to describe two different things, making it incredibly confusing for people to grasp.

Usually, "bioplastics" describes plastics made from bio-based materials such as corn starch and sugarcane (rather than fossil fuels). Other times, it's used to describe biodegradable plastics.

Just to make things even more confusing, it's important to remember that not all bio-based plastics biodegrade, and not all biodegradable plastics are bio-based.

Many products marketed as "bioplastics" only contain a tiny percentage of renewable parts, while the rest are fossil fuel-based. This is problematic because it means that consumers think they are getting non-plastic material when they are not. 

Closed loop

Closed loop is a term that's used to refer to how chemicals are managed and disposed of during manufacturing.

Essentially, it means that harmful chemicals are captured and reclaimed for use rather than being disposed of in waterways. Yet the shift to a closed-loop fashion system must incorporate more than just capturing chemicals. We need a broader outlook that endeavours to eliminate waste and pollution, regenerate nature and circulate materials. 

Shop The Harmonic's Natural Fibre Edit here >