Making Sense of Eco Textile Certification

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One of the biggest obstacles facing sustainable fashion and apparel brands is how to make sense of the overwhelming number of certification schemes and standards that are available. Given that transparency and accountability is key to any successful sustainable brand (in apparel or otherwise), having a certification scheme to back up claims such as organic and fair trade, is crucial.

The same challenge is facing the eco-active consumer. Exactly how are we supposed to avoid eco-fatigue with so many eco logos out there? Which ones do we trust? And what do they even mean? We have logos for our food, our household products and appliances, and now a growing number of eco fashion logos to remember.

Many certification schemes address one or more areas across the supply chain. There are fair trade labels that certify the farming, manufacturing, and/or trade of textiles; and there are schemes that address the energy, waste, water and toxic chemicals. There are ethical sourcing and social compliance standards, life cycle assessments, and the list goes on. Has your head exploded yet?

One of the most reputable standards in apparel however is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) – a globally recognized leading processing standard for textiles that are made from organic fibers. Because all fibers certified to GOTS must already be certified organic, it means consumers are purchasing items certified organic – from field to finished product. Not only does GOTS define environmental criteria (energy, waste, toxins etc) across the supply chain, but it also imposes criteria on social compliance. Finally, a solution to the eco certification clutter!

There are twelve certification bodies that are accredited to certify according to the GOTS standard. Fashion Takes Action member Ecocert is one of them. In collaboration with two other groups, who had each developed their own standards, the three collaborated and combined their private standards to create GOTS. For the full list of accredited certification bodies, please visit the GOTS website: http://www.global-standard.org/certification/approved-certification-bodies.html

“The introduction of this standard should help to reduce the saturation of logos, since any product certified by any of the accredited certification bodies can use the GOTS logo”, states Ecocert Canada rep Simon Jacques. “Consumers can also look forward to increasing standardization of labeling, and should focus on “organic” and/or “fair trade” certification, rather than other certifications, as these have clearly defined meanings, and were developed by independent, accredited certification bodies”.

GOTS recently re-launched its database of certified entities that allows the user to search in a number of ways: by company name, license number or product type and specification, as well as by trade activities and operations. Unfortunately I was disappointed in the few Canadian companies who are certified to GOTS, but hopefully this will soon change.

Despite the lack of Canadian companies in their database, it is very exciting to see the growing number of companies who meet the GOTS standard. There are close to 400 dyeing facilities, over 200 spinning, knitting, and weaving units, and about 140 printing and manufacturing facilities. There are more than 700 export businesses listed, and close to 50 import operations that hold GOTS certificates as well. Twelve independent certification organizations around the world are qualified to certify operations to the standard.

My hope is that more apparel-based businesses will meet the GOTS certification, thus reducing the number of eco logos we must identify with. Until then, I will continue to do my due diligence when shopping for sustainable clothing. If a logo is unfamiliar to me, I will ask questions. I have faith that soon there will be a recognized standard in place that takes the guesswork out of the equation, allows us to feel good about our purchases, and all without the headache!

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