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Textile sustainability certifications can be a complex and at times confusing subject. There are lots of labels out there and it can be difficult to work out which ones to go for when you want to make the most ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly choices.
The good news is that once you get a handle on the labels that are out there and what they mean, it will become easier for you to make the right choices when choosing your clothes.
The rise of eco labels began in two basic ideas: a drive for better environmental safety, and the push for improved working conditions and wages. Animal rights have also played an important role, as more and more people demanded clothes that did not cause any creatures harm.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of our trusted standards, labels and certifications, to help you understand why these are marks that you should look at on your clothes.
GOTS – Global Organic Textiles Standard
This standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% organic natural fibres. Its aim is to define requirements to ensure the organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the person buying the clothes.
The standard allows for two different label-grades:
(1) “organic” or “organic in conversion” and
(2) “made with X% organic materials”
For the first label category, no less than 95% of the fibre content of the products – excluding accessories – must be of certified organic origin or from 'in conversion' fields. For the second label category, no less than 70% of the fibre content must be of certified organic origin or from in conversion fields.
Oeko Tex Certifications
Since introduced in 1992, this worldwide, consistent, independent testing and certification system has been applied to raw, semi-finished and finished textile products at all processing levels, as well as accessory materials that are used. It covers the entire life cycle. Products that carry the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 label have been tested at all stages of production to ensure there are no harmful chemicals or residues present, and that the product was made in environmentally friendly conditions.
In addition to the Standard 100, Oeko-Tex also has a Sustainable Textile Production (SteP) certification system. This certification system is for brands, retail companies and manufacturers from the textile industry who wish to communicate their achievements regarding sustainable manufacturing processes.
This certification covers not only the chemicals used and their management, but also:
- environmental performance
- occupational health and safety
- social responsibility
- quality management
- the extent of sustainable management provided by a production facility.
In addition to offering the above certification schemes, Oeko-Tex also administers the 'Made in Green' Label. Any finished textile items and semi-finished products at all levels of the textile supply chain can be granted the 'Made in Green' label, which certifies that they are free from harmful chemicals, were manufactured using environmentally friendly processes and under safe and socially responsible working conditions. This label is awarded for a period of one year.
Cradle to Cradle
Products that are Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified are assessed in five key categories:
- material health
- material re-utilization
- renewable energy and carbon management
- water stewardship,
- and social fairness.
And awarded an achievement level ranging from basic, through bronze, silver and gold to platinum level. The lowest level attained by a product determines its overall mark.
GRS - Global Recycled Standard
One of the most important and best known standards when it comes to recycled content in the textiles industry is the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). The goal of this standard is to increase the use of recycled material and reduce/eliminate the harm caused by the production of products.
The Global Recycled Standard is intended for use with any product that contains at least 20% recycled material. Each stage of production must be certified, beginning at the recycling stage and ending at the final point of sale.
RWS – Responsible Wool Standard
This standard is designed to provide the industry with information on best practice for farmers, and to allow consumers to recognise when wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land, and from sheep that have been treated well and responsibly. The RWS protects animal welfare, preserved land health and provides for traceability within wool supply chains.
Brands or companies that sign PETAs statement of assurance or provide a statement confirming that they do not conduct or commission any animal tests on ingredients, formulations or finished products and pledge not to do so in the future are certified cruelty free. PETA certified clothing brands do not involve any harm to animals.
Materials standards, and textile specific certifications are not the only ones that are relevant in the industry. Those who have a particular interest in the human side of sustainability should also consider looking into various Fairtrade Certifications that can be applied to textiles, just as they can to food and other consumer products.
Fairtrade's new Textiles Standard and Programme, administered by the independent certification body, FLOCERT, is designed to tackle challenging and unsafe working conditions within the entire textiles supply chain. By committing to Fairtrade, companies can help to improve social and economic well-being of the workers across the entire production chain. Consumers know, when they see this label, that working conditions and workers have been taken into account.
Taken from the ILO Conventions and the UN's Declaration on Human Rights, the code for members of the Fairwear Foundation is designed to ensure good safety standards and working conditions for all those involved in the garment and textiles industry. Brands who sign up agree to practice this code of labour practices throughout their supply chains.
Fashion Revolution is not so much a label or certification as it is a movement. It is a movement of individuals, policymakers and textiles industry workers and retailers. Those who sign up to become part of this movement sign a manifesto, which aims for greater transparency, worker rights and conditions, and a better deal for the environment within the fashion industry.
The above is an overview of many of the most important certifications and labels that can be applied to sustainable clothing. However, these represent only a part of the picture. There are also a number of other certifications, standards and schemes out there that can help you make the right decisions about which clothing to choose.
As long as you look carefully about what is covered by each certification, standard, label or scheme, and how claims from companies are verified, you can use these sustainable fashion certificates to make the right choices in all the clothes you buy.
There has long been a lack of transparency within the industry, with little understanding of how global supply chains operate and what they mean for people, animals and the planet. But things are definitely improving, and better sustainable fashion certificates are an important part of the picture.
Text by Elizabeth Waddington
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