Previously, I armed you all with a bunch of shopping tips, giving you the best websites where you can find ethically and sustainably produced clothing, as well as find out how your favourite fashion brands rank in terms of their efforts to reduce their negative impact on the environment and on the people working within their supply chain.
So now you are in these shops, ready to do your bit to improve the global textile industry (and invest in some amazing new clothing)! While looking at the tags- perhaps the country of origin, care instructions, and of course the price- you might notice a few other tags or labels on there, that you may or may not have seen before. But don’t freak out, it’s not as complicated as it might seem and they are most likely conveying some good information about the brand.
Any brand that acquires one of these labels has had their supply chain checked by an independent body and has met the criteria required to earn the certification. No amount of money can simply buy the certification, so if they aren’t doing the right thing, there is no way that they could get it. This means that consumers can trust these certifications and know that they aren’t just a form of greenwashing.
Let me help you decipher the most popular ones, so you understand what they mean and you know exactly what type of garment you are handing your cash over for.
Vegan (If you are an animal lover, this one will be of interest to you).
Veganism is a pretty in these days, but if you have heard of it, most likely it was in reference to food and not clothing. But it works much the same way. People who live a vegan lifestyle do not purchase products which contain anything that comes from an animal. They believe that no animal should be exploited in the process of providing products for consumers.
Therefore, vegan clothing is made with only synthetic, such as nylon and polyester, and plant based materials, such as cotton or linen. Non-vegan materials include things such as leather, down, wool and silk. All of these are derived from animals and not always in a kind and gentle way.
The use of animal products in fashion may not always be so obvious to the untrained eye. For example, animal-based glues are used quite commonly in the manufacturing of shoes. It can also be difficult for consumers to notice the difference between real fur and fake fur and unfortunately, there have been many cases where it has been incorrectly labelled by brands.
This is where the ‘PETA-Approved Vegan’ certification comes in. Any article of clothing with this label is guaranteed to be made without harming or exploiting animals in the process. If a brand wants to get this logo on their clothes, they must submit a questionnaire and a Statement of Assurance, that states the Peta logo will only be used in connection with vegan clothing. PETA don’t just take the brand’s word for it, that they are animal free either. They follow it up and do a bit of investigating before they award approval.
SOCIAL (If you are worried about the workers, these labels are for you).
This would be one of the most recognised ethical labels around the world. I am sure many of you are addicted to chocolate or coffee or both and have seen this label at some point. But when you see it on clothing, this label refers to the actual cotton being fairly produced, not the actual garment. That means they are helping to improve the lives and working conditions of small-scale farmers and workers in developing countries who grow and pick the cotton. It has nothing to do with the conditions of the workers in the garment factories.
The Fairtrade label ensures that the farmers are being paid the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their cotton. This price covers the cost of sustainable production, in order to minimise negative effects on the environment. A Fairtrade Premium is also paid, which is a fund of extra money that is used to benefit the community. Workers and farmers can choose to spend it however they like, for example, by developing a healthcare system or building infrastructure.
After a thorough and lengthy application process, certification is granted. But not before an on-site audit is conducted within the first six months to make sure the company is up to scratch.
Fairwear focuses on the manufacturing side of the supply chain. So these are the people slaving away behind the sewing machine. Fairwear enforcers workers rights and makes sure there are no violations. They have eight labour standards that companies must follow, which cover basic human rights. These standards include things such as ensuring a fair living wage is paid to workers, they don’t work excessive overtime and that they have safe and healthy working conditions.
Fairwear check the conditions in the producing countries as well as monitor how European brands do business with these factories. They are a multi-stakeholder initiative, meaning that they work with groups such as trade unions, women’s groups, NGO’s and governments to find long lasting solutions to improve the lives of the workers.
Transparency is also very important to them. They work closely with the brands and publish public reports on the performance of brands and what is happening in the factories. Brands are regularly audited and if they aren’t meeting the standards, they basically get kicked out of the club! Their membership suspended, meaning they can’t use the Fairwear label. Workers are also able to take their complaints directly to Fairwear, so they are aware of them straight away. That is really important for factory workers, because normally they fear their managers or their complaints are simply ignored.
ENVIRONMENTAL (If you love our planet and don’t want it to be destroyed, then this one is for you).
This certification covers textiles that are made from organic textile fibres and the garments have to be made up of at least 70% organic fibres to gain the certification. The good thing here is that GOTS considers the entire supply chain. That means everything from fibre processing, manufacturing and distribution of the garments. Even the packaging and swing tags used must be recyclable. They make sure that the company meets its strict environmental criteria in regards to the use of chemicals and water waste treatment.
Companies also have to meet the minimum social criteria to get certified, but this is not the primary focus of GOTS. Their main aims are to make sure that we are exposed to as few chemicals as possible through the clothes that we wear and that the environment doesn’t suffer in the process.
There are many more certifications out there, that cover similar things to varying degrees but unfortunately there is no single certification that covers all environmental and social or fair standards. It is really a shame that you can’t be sure that your clothing was made under ethical or sustainable conditions unless it has a label on it. Having so many certifications can get confusing. Hopefully one day, there will be no need for all these different labels. Hopefully all clothing will be ethical and sustainable, making the certifications redundant.
Which certifications are the most important to you? Do you search for fair or environmentally friendly clothing? Join the discussion below!