How to Certify Sustainable Fashion


It is clear the textile industry has a profound influence on the health of the environment. Yet without regulation and the sustainability movement, the industry has no reason to change its way. Fortunately some organizations have started to shape the industry to have a lesser impact both environmentally and socially.  

Some of the certifications are specific to materials. Their goal is to influence the cultivation and use of materials such as wool, cotton, leather, and bamboo. An example comes from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an organization researching ways to produce less resource intensive cotton products. By researching pesticides, water systems, and social impact BCI has been able to educate farmers on best practices. They send representatives out to the fields to teach how to harvest. They also help farmers connect to manufactures who want their better product and will pay a premium for it. The BCI has helped to improve crops and transparency within the supply chain of cotton.

The Responsible Luxury Initiative (RLI), was created to help luxury brands use more sustainable practices. It was developed because of changes in customer preferences toward sustainable products. First because, sustainability creates desire; second, to be desirable, brands must be sustainable. This may seem redundant but, it is how RLI takes different stakeholders view to create more profitable products. One principle of RLI is the protection of animals. Although luxury companies may choose to work with animals. They work to make sure animals are sustained though ethical trade, species conservation, and protection of ecosystems in accordance to efforts which applies to all sectors in the supply chain. This is important not only to the animal but also to the farmers and communities near these farms. This certification ensures that air, water and land is not compromised for the sake of textile production. According to the RLI website the following companies follow these principles: LVMH, Kering, Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, and others.

In contrast to RLI, a more widely known organization improving the textile industry is the Organic Trade Association (OTA). The OTA certifies organic fiber must be grown in accordance to U.S. National Organic Program. As mentioned on the OTA website, this means use of toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetic engineering is banned. To further push organic standards, regulations were added to include manufactures as well. Manufactures are now held to organic standards set by OTA known as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). GOTS is an international standard for processing organic textiles which address post-harvest process (spinning, knitting, weaving, dying and manufacturing) of items. GOTS requirements ensure the end customer the textile item they are buying is credible organic from raw material to end product.

A plethora of certifications for the fashion industry are available. This can cause confusion and conflict for farmers, manufactures, and end customers. The number of certifications the textile industry has is one of the largest challenges they face. To combat and simplify what it means to be sustainable the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) was created.

The SAC has brought together businesses, non-profits, governmental groups, and universities to develop their own certification called the Higg Index. Unlike other certifications, the Higg Index is a tool that measures products sustainability across the life cycle of a product . The index can be applied to all textile goods no matter the origin or material. By creating one common rating language the SAC has been able to compare products evenly. Although this system is not yet released to the public, once available it will allow consumers to make informed purchases they can trust.

Check out more certifications under the Discovery tab on my Sustainable Textile Handbook website

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