Certifications come in handy when we want to find more about how clothes are produced. They usually involve a third-party organisation vouching for the fact that a certain aspect of a garment, such as chemical use or labour standards, is in line with their own criteria rather than those of the brand that made it.

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and holding a certification in one area doesn’t mean the brand is doing everything right. It might be using organic cotton, but what about its workers–are they being paid fairly? What they do offer, however, are industry-wide benchmarks that help brands source more sustainable materials, and help consumers better understand what they are buying.

Here are some of the most common ones to look out for, and what they really tell you about the product or brand in question.

GOTS

Short for Global Organic Textile Standard, this certification looks at the whole textile supply chain, quite literally from field to fashion. There are two GOTS labels: if a product is to use the ‘organic,’ one, it must be made up of at least 95% natural organic fibres, grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides. Meanwhile, if the label states that said product is ‘made with organic fibres’ this lowers to 70%. GOTS certification also imposes restrictions on the chemicals used in the processing phase, as well as a set of social standards to ensure basic human and labour rights are fulfilled.

OEKO-TEX® Standard 100

Another widely used standard for chemical usage is the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100. It guarantees that every part of a textile product–from fabrics to threads and buttons–has been tested for substances that are harmful to humans. The product classes vary depending on an item’s use, with stricter requirements for baby clothing and garments that come into direct contact with the skin (jackets and decorative items are allowed a little more leeway). While many countries have their own rules on harmful chemicals, OEKO-TEX®’s certification is globally standardised and its criteria often go beyond national and international obligations.

bluesign®

bluesign® works at a supplier level, assessing how the components that make up a garment have been processed and manufactured. Raw materials, dyes and chemicals can be bluesign® APPROVED, meaning they have passed a strict set of criteria around both people and planet. Meanwhile, the bluesign® PRODUCT label is found on finished garments and means that at least 90% of the textiles and 30% of the additional accessories used to make them have been bluesign® APPROVED. It sounds complex, but what the system offers is a holistic way to assess an item based on all the different elements needed to bring it to life. It also implies a certain level of transparency, as companies must know exactly where their raw materials have come from.

Better Cotton Initiative

The Better Cotton Initiative is a global not-for-profit organisation working with over two million farmers around the world to help implement more sustainable agricultural practices, improving livelihoods and economic development at the same time. However, bearing the BCI logo doesn’t mean that the cotton in your garment always comes from these farms. The raw material said brand orders is mixed with normal, conventional cotton in the process. A brand also only needs to be sourcing 10% of its total cotton from BCI farms to use the logo if it plans to reach 50% in the next five years. What this stamp does show, however, is a commitment to supporting BCI farmers by paying into the project and driving demand for Better Cotton. It is a sign of a general commitment to responsible sourcing, but it doesn’t make any guarantees about the item you buy.

FSC

You may be wondering what Forest Stewardship Council standards have to do with fashion. Let’s not forget that cellulosic fibres like viscose, lyocell and modal all come from trees! Then there’s the packaging, and cardboard labels on clothing too. A little like the Better Cotton Initiative, which works on farmer level, the FSC deals directly with forests. Its rigorous environmental and social criteria include forest management, workers rights, protection of indigenous peoples, and strict limits on the conversion of natural forest lands, with a particular attention to biodiversity. End products can be certified as FSC 100%, meaning all wood used is from approved forests, FSC MIX, meaning that it uses at least 70% certified wood, or FSC Recycled, which verifies that it is made from 100% recycled content.

Cradle to Cradle Certified®

This one is all about the circular economy. Its methodology is rooted in the Cradle to Cradle design principles, which outline key considerations for a waste-free world. It considers not only how products are made, but what happens to them at the end of their useful life. The criteria span five categories, assessing the use of energy, water and chemicals, alongside social standards, and the re-use potential of the materials in question. A product is rated as Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum, according to its lowest score in any category. Rating items based on their weakest aspects allows no room for greenwashing, encouraging brands to make 360° commitments.

Leather Working Group

The Leather Working Group offers an on-the-ground auditing system that investigates the environmental impact of leather manufactures and traders. An LWG Leather Manufacturer Audit Protocol involves a two-day site visit to review factors such as energy and water usage, waste, traceability, and chemical processing. Factories are awarded either the Gold, Silver, or Bronze standard, while others remain simply as ‘Audited.’ Brands can join the Leather Working Group through paid subscription, which in turn funds the audits. Bring an LWG member means brands can assess their leather supply chain, tapping into the system to choose responsible tanneries to work with.

PETA Approved Vegan

As its name would suggest, products that bear the PETA Approved Vegan label use no animal-derived products in their making. It is found on clothing, accessories, and interior items, and can refer to a product, a collection, or an entire brand. One thing to note, however, it that unlike other certifications, this one is predominantly based on self-assessment. Brands and their suppliers must fill in a questionnaire and pay a fee. Their application is then reviewed and approved by PETA, but there is no active or on-the-ground investigation into the supply chain. So, while it is a good ‘at a glance’ indicator, it’s always worth doing a little extra research into said brand’s social and environmental commitments too.

Author: Beatrice Murray-Nag’s