One of the biggest pieces of advice I’m seeing under these social-distancing circumstances is the benefit in taking the time to learn something new. Fortunately for me, I have had the opportunity to do just that, and I’m so excited to share more about it with you today! This will be a bit of a long one, so pour yourself a cup of tea (or wine), and let’s chat all things OEKO-TEX®!
I recently spoke with Casey Strauch, spokesperson for Hohenstein Group – a founding member of OEKO-TEX®, a worldwide association of 18 independent research and test institutes that set standards for safer textile products and production. We discussed what OEKO-TEX® is, how certifications are awarded and why it’s important to understand how your clothing is labeled. OEKO-TEX® also recently conducted a study to look at attitudes towards sustainability and clothing, with some intriguing results.
While I was familiar with the OEKO-TEX® label, I didn’t fully understand how the process worked and wanted to learn more about it. In a world where greenwashing is so prevalent, third-party substantiation of claims (and understanding how that substantiation works) is incredibly important when it comes to being a conscious consumer.
This artisan-embroidered sweatshirt from Grey State is made in a mill that has earned STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification.
OEKO-TEX® has several different standards, all of which can help people identify the safety, sustainability and fair production of textile products.
STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is a globally standardized, independent testing and certification system for textile products from every stage of production. To bear this label, a product – and each of its components – must be tested for harmful substances. That means everything from the textile to the buttons to the zipper pull must meet the Standard 100 criteria. It tests for substances that pose a risk to health and many substances that are not yet regulated but may pose a risk to health – more than 350 of them total. The value of any of the substances (for example, lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, BPA…) must be below the thresholds set by the standard, and the thresholds vary based upon how the textile will be used – threshold levels will differ for clothing, which comes in contact with your skin, and say…curtains, Casey explained.
LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX® is similar to the above, but for leather products at every stage of production.
ECO PASSPORT OEKO-TEX® is a globally standardized, independent testing and certification system for chemicals, dyes and supporting materials used to manufacture textile and leather products.
STeP by OEKO-TEX® stands for Sustainable Textile & Leather Production. The goal of STeP is to implement environmentally-friendly production processes, to improve health and safety and to promote socially responsible working conditions at production sites. It looks at the long-term implementation of sustainable practices and the totality of the production process: chemicals management, environmental performance, environmental management, social responsibility, quality management and health protection and safety at work.
MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX®is a product label for textiles that have been tested for harmful substances, produced in environmentally-friendly facilities and produced in safe workplaces. It is a combination of the STANDARD 100 and STeP criteria, and allows you to trace the supply chain of the product (pretty cool, right?)
Why it Matters
When OEKO-TEX® started, it only tested for 100 substances – today, that number is more than 350! All of their testing is based on real-life use of a textile, not just use under lab conditions. So, OEKO-TEX® considers who might be using a textile, and how, when considering thresholds for different substances. “If it’s say, a textile that a baby might be sleeping in, or might be putting in their mouth, that has much stricter limits than a jacket for an adult. An umbrella that you’re using outside wouldn’t have as many restrictions as say, sheets on your bed. We study how the item will be used in order to set the limits, and we are constantly monitoring legal, NGO, industry and scientific information to set those standards,” Casey elaborates.
OEKO-TEX® always requires annual testing and renewal, which not all similar certifications do. I found it particularly interesting that Hohenstein conducts on-site audits and will even pull products from retail shelves to audit.
“We are really strict about products meeting the standards because we want to protect the consumer. We also want to protect the trust in our certifications and our partners who have done the hard work to become certified.”
The certification process can take between two to eight weeks depending on how much testing is involved.
How Consumers Can Use the Standard When Shopping
These chunky bed socks from Boody are – you guessed it… STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified!
Okay, so that is a lot of information. While it’s important to understand the background, let’s talk a little bit about how, as consumers, we can put the OEKO-TEX® standard to use when we’re shopping.
The OEKO-TEX® website offers a label check where you can check the validity of a label and determine if it is up-to-date. The label check will tell you what is covered under the certificate, and if the certification is still valid (since certification needs to be done annually). Additionally, the name of the institute who did the testing is on the label. It’s important to note that brands can be certified and choose not to add the label to their product, so you may just see them list it in the product attributes on their website.
The MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label – which I imagine most of you are interested in, adds another dimension because you can trace the supply chain of the product. For items that have met this standard, you can clearly see where it was manufactured, sometimes down to the name and address of each of the brand’s suppliers.
Casey notes, “The MADE IN GREEN label is found on home textiles more often than apparel, because there is a lot of complexity in the apparel supply chain. However, a lot of brands are working toward meeting this standard, which is promising.”
Shopper Trends & Textile Sustainability
OEKO-TEX® recently conducted a survey to learn more about consumer attitudes around textiles and sustainability. If you’re here, it means you’re probably already pretty passionate about this topic, but the study was a fascinating look into how the general public feels about shopping sustainably. In fact, their findings are representative – they surveyed 11,200 consumers of apparel and textile products in ten different countries!
“The world has long-assumed that U.S. consumers are not interested in sustainability – but that isn’t true. U.S. consumer concerns are closer to home – their family, safety of loved ones, for example – rather than looking at sustainability in the context of the whole world. But they do care about sustainability,” Casey explained.
Of the 1,745 U.S. consumers surveyed, 61% reported that they are committed to a sustainable, environmentally-friendly lifestyle. We’re also pretty savvy (nice!) – with 52% of respondents reporting that they check if a brand’s eco-claims are true.
Remember earlier, when I mentioned that some brands may choose not to use the OEKO-TEX® label on their products? Casey told me that Hohenstein frequently receives emails from shoppers asking to confirm a product’s certification status if they see it listed on a website but not the product label.
The survey also revealed some interesting consumer perceptions about sustainable textiles, some of which you might hold yourself. When asked about perceptions of sustainable textiles, key words mentioned included animal-friendly, expensive, hard-to-find, high-quality, innovative, unique, and soft. I know that I believed some of these more negative attributes to be true before I really got involved with sustainable fashion, but it simply isn’t the case that all sustainable textiles are unaffordable or hard-to-find.
“Not all sustainable products are expensive or inaccessible – that is a common misconception. There are OEKO-TEX® certified products that are sold at WalMart and Williams-Sonoma. I also think with the growing consumer interest in buying less, but higher-quality products, some of that concern may go away because we’re beginning to think differently about consumption.”
If you’d like to see more of the key findings of the survey, you can check it out here.
I hope you all found this dive into how OEKO-TEX® works and what it means for us to be interesting and helpful – I know I learned a lot!
There are so many brands and consumers out there, all trying to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability, and it can feel really overwhelming! The OEKO-TEX® label is a great way to be able to shop with confidence and to understand more about a product’s story.
Any questions on OEKO-TEX®? Leave me a comment, and I’ll get back to you (or find out the answer for you!)