Certifications for sustainable fashion

What a maze. Do you have any idea what kind of certifications there are in the clothing industry, what they actually mean (IF they actually mean anything relevant for you), and how to make good use of them while shopping? Well I didn’t. I had heard of GOTS before, because of my own involvement with a sustainable clothing label, and of course about ‘something’ fair trade. But there is more, apparently. Below I have listed 4 important certifications available in the sustainable (clothing) industry, with a short indication of what they actually mean. So if you have plans to shop more sustainable (which you should!), make good use of this list. Remember some of them and in that way reduce the risk of being ‘greenwashed’. By the way, if you have any suggestions for other certifications that I should include, let me know!

Certifications for sustainable fashion


GOTS logo
The Global Organic Textile Standard
This organization started as an attempt to set up a global certification for mainly the environmental pillar of textile production. They succeeded very well in setting the standard. There are 2 types of certification with GOTS. On the one hand the certification where the garment qualifies as ‘Organic’, where 95% of the garment is made from certified organic fibres. The second certification label is ‘Made with organic’, where between 70-95% of the used fibres are organic.
In 2014, the newest GOTS certification groundrules were introduced, and they now also inculde the social aspect of textile production. A good development, if you ask me. Based on the ILO (International Labour Organization) norms for labour, the process of becoming GOTS certified now also includes the need for safe, hygienic and fair working conditions (no forced work, living wages, no excessive over-hours).
How does GOTS check if a garment really deserves its certification? On the one hand, they do onsite audits, and on the other hand residue testing of the products. Word on the street is that GOTS is very thorough in enforcing and checking companies on complaince with their certification groundrules.

WFTO Label_smallOG
World Fair Trade Organisation
This is a global membership organisation for companies that operate and trade in a fair manner. The organisation strives to connect and help its members spread fair trade all over the world. When you want to become a member, you have to comply with the 10 principles of the organization. These principles are mainly usefull in the social pillar of manufacturing and largely based on ILO standards. The organisation carries out monitoring audits and organizes peer visits. Next to that it relies on the public reporting compliance issues via a Fair Trade Accountability Watch system.
Concerning environmental guidelines, this organisation is not so strict as for example GOTS. I think this is mainly due to the different structure and aim of the organisation. They set guidelines and want businesses to continuously keep improving their way of doing business, since every move towards a fair economy is a good one. When you check the 10 principles you see that they talk about for example ‘maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources’ and ‘seek to reduce energy consumption’.
Fairtrade Foundation
This organisation promotes ethical trade since 1988. The organisation has 2 separate bodies, one for setting the standards and promoting ethical trade, the other for checking and auditing companies that are members of the organisation. The aim is to tackle poverty and empower producers in the poorest countries in the world. It mainly focusses on the social aspect of production, and wants to make sure social injustices become a part of history.
When a piece of clothing bears this label, it means that the fibres used have been sourced 100% fairtrade. At this moment it says little about if the fibres are organic or if pollutants have been used. There are some standards for environmentally sound production processes, but to become a member you can do without full organic production for example, even though the Fairtrade Foundation obviously encourages companies to produce that way. The most important aim of this label and organization, is for social rights and security to be ensured.
EU Ecolabel
This label aims to identify products that have reduced environmental impact in their entire life cycle (including also the recycling process), as compared to other similar products on the market. The label focusses purely on the environmental pillar of fashion production. Every product is individually evaluated by independent experts. The label strives to set a norm for products from companies that have reduced the harm in their production process as much as possible, in the European Union.
The Ecolabel is set up by means of a regulation coming from the European Parliament and Council. The daily management is done by the European Commission. If I might add a critical sidenote here, this means that the process might be very political and the conditions for becoming certified subject to lobbying by different stakeholders. The involvement of the member states makes it even more complicated. A look at the statistics for how widespread this label is, confirms my feeling: figures have not been updated because of discrepancies between memberstates in counting of licenses and certified products at state level. In my opinion, this shows us again what a difficult (and often times highly political) subject sustainability can be.

NB: a little remark on this article.
– The whole process of getting certified can take up a lot of time and effort (and thus money). If you ask me, honest companies should make that effort without complaining. But there are people who believe that there are alternatives for small brands, who for example make sure for themselves that their products are produced in a fair and eco way.

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One Comment

  1. Love the article! I’m currently researching the future of social labelling in the fashion industry. Another one to note is The Fair Wear Foundation, or Oeko-Tex. But is there a need for a new label which covers both ethics and the environment?

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