What is Ethical and Sustainable Children's Clothing?
Ethical and sustainable children's clothing.
It sounds good and wholesome – but what exactly does it mean?
Sustainable: pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse
Ethical: pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong
My recent blog “Is Handmade Clothing Good for the Environment” looked briefly at fabric choices and highlighted the need to choose fabrics carefully when making childrenswear. However, it didn’t go into much more detail than that.
This blog post is going to look closer at the fabric choices I make; in particular the two certifications that I look for when choosing fabric for my children’s clothing – the Global Organic Textile Standard and the Oeko-Tex Standard and what these standards mean for your Tutti Frutti Clothing garments.
Cotton – The World’s Oldest Crop
All of the fabric I use contains around 95% cotton with the remaining percentage being elastane. Cotton is the world’s oldest crop and the one of the most important fibres in the textile industry. It is used in large quantities within the fashion industry and in high demand. In 2013/14 around 26 million tonnes of cotton was produced. Yet is also one of the dirtiest and chemical laden fabric used. In India 90% of that cotton is genetically modified in some way.
Growing cotton uses a lot of water. It takes 20,000 litres of water to grow enough cotton to make one t-shirt. That is around 250 full bathtubs of water to make one shirt.
Cotton growers can also use tens of thousands of chemicals – many of which have be classed as hazardous by the World Health Organisation. Tests on conventional clothing reveal traces of pesticides, toxics dyes and more. Chemical left on the fabric can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin causing allergies, skin rashes and breathing problems.
The cotton industry is largely unregulated – leaving labourers open to poor working conditions and questions over the quality and integrity of the product.
Reading all of that is enough to put anyone off wearing or using cotton. It certainly made me re-think my choices and is why I actively seek out better cotton options for Tutti Frutti Clothing.
It is why I look for cotton that has been certified as safe or organic to use in my clothing.
The only way to avoid cotton that has been grown artificially using large quantities of chemicals is to buy organic cotton. Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides and fertilisers. It is a natural product – not a genetically modified one. However, when you buy something labelled as organic it is important to realise that that only relates to the way the cotton is grown – not the entire printing and manufacturing process of the garment.
The organic cotton I use is certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard – or GOTS for short.
This standard is the “leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by certification of the entire textile supply chain”
GOTS certification covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibres – it is possibly the strictest standard for textiles.
Alongside the environmental criteria for growing, processing and manufacturing – including the printing and dying of the fabric – there are strict ecological and social criteria which the companies applying to the standard need to have met.
- Environmental and Ecological criteria include, but are not limited to:
- Keeping the organic fibres separate from conventional fibres so no crossover occurs.
- Ensuring that dyes and processing chemicals meet basic requirement on toxicity and biodegradability
- The prohibition of toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde and genetically modified organisms.
- No chlorine bleaching
- Procedures in place to ensure waste is minimal and waste material are disposed of correctly and safely.
- Full records kept of the use of chemical, energy, water consumption and waste water treatment – including the disposal of sludge.
- Only paper or cardboard to be using in all packaging, swing tags etc
- Final products must meet stringent limited on unwanted residues left behind on the fabric
There are then several social criteria that companies must meet which are based on recommendations from the International Labour Organisation. These include ensuring:
- Employment is freely chosen (no forced labour)
- Working conditions are safe and hygienic
- Child labour must not be used
- A living wage must be paid
- Working hours are not excessive
- No discrimination is practised
- Harsh or inhumane treatment is prohibited
Companies that want their textiles to become GOTS certified have to comply with all the criteria of the standard. The whole textile chain – from the farmers to the manufacturers – must comply with each part of the criteria list before certification can be awarded.
Better, Safer Non-Organic Cotton
Alongside the GOTS certified cotton that I use, you will also see that some of my fabric is labelled as being Oeko-Tex 100 certified. This standard is one of the several other industry standards that exists to address environmental, ecological and social issues – although they don’t require the fabric to be organic.
The Oeko-Tex 100 standard is a widely recognised standard that has strict criteria and limits the amount of substances that may be harmful that are often found in finished textile products.
In simple terms if the cotton is grown using fertilisers and pesticides and the dying process uses chemicals you don’t want them left on your clothes once they have been made. This standard ensures that the fabric is safe for baby and children’s clothing.
To achieve the Oeko-Tex Standard, a textile must be tested for many chemical residues to ensure that no illegal chemicals are being used and to make sure that any legal hazardous ones no longer remain on the fabric. The list of chemicals tested for is pretty extensive. Among the huge number on that list is:
- Heavy Metals
- A number of pesticides
- Chlorine based bleaches
The fabric is also put through a ‘suck test’. This is where the fabric is tested with artificial saliva to make sure that no dyes or chemicals leach out if a baby or child were to suck the garment.
You can read the entire list of chemicals here and here
The textile companies must also ensure they have a quality assurance system in place which guarantees the processing techniques, dying, recipes and materials for the textiles they are applying for. If any of these change at any time then they must send the fabric back for re-testing. In addition, Oeko-Tex carry out monitoring and auditing and even turn up unannounced at companies for spot checks.
To comply fully with the standard, companies also need to have better environmental practises at both the manufacturing and processing level. This means that Oeko-Tex certified fabric also offers significant environmental benefits compared to many other textiles and fabrics.