Did you that know is that 80% of consumers would like to see labels on products that clearly demonstrate responsible sourcing practices? Or that over half of shoppers believe a certification is the most reassuring proof that social/ecological standards are being considered?
It's not all that surprising this is the case, given the lack of information and transparency in the industry. So when it comes to fashion, here are some key labels to keep your peepers peeled for.
An independent Swiss-based organisation that is involved in several aspects of the value chain of materials. This certification means that companies have adhered to rigorous chemical management standards, consumer safety, water and air use and employee health and safety. Both industrial partners and brands with this standard can be identified as more responsible textile producers.
However, Lululemon, Addidas and other fast fashion products are seen to have this standard (alongside ones like Patagonia) so be sure to understand that this is for 'safer' production though perhaps not entirely 'sustainable'.
OEKO-TEX® is a heavyweight when it comes to assessing toxic chemicals in clothing and operates in 60 countries. They have three product labels STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® and LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX®.
Whilst these labels look overwhelming on a basic level they simply tell us that our clothes are free from harmful or illegal chemicals. IN GREEN indicates the use of sustainable processes in a transparent supply chain so if you're looking for that added level of security this is a great indicator. One thing to be mindful of however, is that some of the wording inside the documents and in the assessment process can be 'fluffy. For example, explaining that a company "should" do something instead of "must", indicates that there is some element of choice and therefore the possibility of grey areas in the certification. So again, great to use as a benchmark but it's not a sure thing.
ISO is a global network of national standards bodies that develop international standards to provide solutions to global challenges (phew). This means that the ISO group set out to make standards the same globally and help us measure apples against apples, not oranges.
Launched in 1996, ISO has a series of in-depth certifications open to businesses who wish to prove they're committed to certain standards and comply with an internationally recognised standard. They offer a large number of certifications that cover all sorts of areas of business. Within environmental communities, the ISO 14000 family is the one to look for. The standards offer both an environmental management system as well as audit/assessment process. Depending on the certification, brands that hold an ISO standard have committed to high environmental systems management, ethical and social standards and continual improvement when tackling these challenges. Not all brands can afford it however, and it is often something you'll see in large global fashion houses.
GOTS! You probably see this one around a lot especially when a brand is using cotton. The truth is that this standard actually looks at most fabrics, so it can be applied to many more materials. It describes itself as ‘the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.’ So, this means that not only is the fabric organic when grown, but the harvesting, processing and manufacturing is also ecologically sound and socially responsible - vital in the fashion industry! So do be sure to find this standard in larger companies (and sometimes smaller ones too). Again, not all brands and supply chains can afford it, though they can tell you they're as good-as. Be aware of these claims as it can be both true, but also can be greenwashing.
Given how terrible supply chains and factory conditions can be in fashion, looking for certifications that indicate ethical and labor standards is one of the most important things you can do when shopping.
The Fair Wear Foundation is a non-profit that focuses on educating, assessing, supporting and enabling their members to make better decisions based on research and factory audits. The FWF tackles these issues in other ways too, publishing the progress of brands, running training in factories and taking complaints. 'Leader' brands only can use their logo.
Whether you're vegan or not, there is a lot to be said in reducing the consumption of animals. Animal agriculture is implicated directly in the deforestation critical biodiverse jungles such as the Amazon and also in the production of chemicals, toxic run off, fertiliser, hormone use and methane production. Animals make their way into our products and clothing and not only is it hard to tell (such as the use of crushed cochineal bugs in dyes and cosmetics- yuck) but the welfare of the animals themselves should also be questioned.
PETA is an incredibly well-known and recognised charity and their approval process helps shoppers tell whether a product has animal products contained within it. Although it is one of the largest animal rights organisations, the certification relies heavily on self-reporting from brands rather than independent auditing. But, both manufacturers and suppliers must complete a statement of assurance and brands pay an annual fee to maintain their logo so the intention to certify must be a high priority. Whether this is done for PR or out of principle is still in question due to the lack of auditing. So, whilst this is a great indicator of a company's moral principles, it is always good to double-check by reading labels, checking ingredients or enquiring directly.
There are so many more standards to look at within fashion and within businesses in general. We find it best to layer the certifications and look for brands who adopt several where possible. Many brands will have one or two of these, but not all can afford to or are large enough to have multiple.
The most sustainable fashion items after all, are already in your wardrobe! But if you are on the hunt for something specific, look for some of these certifications or initiatives and ask yourself whether they're good quality, you really need it and if you'll be able to wear and look after it in the longer term.