Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman

Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman


Is There a Sustainable Certification for Clothing? [Your Guide to Eco-Friendly and Ethical Labels]

This post is generously sponsored by SOL Organics, a bed and bath brand that holds several ethical and sustainable certifications, including Fairtrade International, GOTS, and OEKO-TEX. As always, EcoCult only works with brands who we trust are making the world a better place.

We often hear the question of whether there is a label like USDA organic, but for fashion and home products. With sustainable fashion becoming more mainstream, we are beginning to see a lot more greenwashing throughout almost every industry, which is why third-party audits and verifications for the products we buy (and the materials and ingredients they’re composed of) is now more important and useful than ever. 

Unfortunately, there’s not one all-encompassing label. Instead, there are a lot of different certifications out there that represent different parts of ethical, sustainable, and transparent fashion and decor manufacturing. That’s because making fashion has many more layers of complexity than simply growing food. In fact, an input to a piece of clothing can be USDA Organic, but then that doesn’t guarantee it was dyed with nontoxic dye, or sewed in a fair trade factory. See what we mean? 

With over 30 certification systems and counting, how are consumers and brands supposed to keep them all straight? What’s the difference between Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International? How is something that’s certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) different from something certified by the Organic Cotton Standard (OCS)? 

As of right now, there is no mandate for any company to certify their products; everything is completely voluntary and brands can choose which labels to get based on things like their industry, budget, and how much they want to show off how ethical and their operations are. 

Sol Organics sheets in EcoCult founder Alden’s bedroom

For example, SOL Organics, which makes bedding and bath towels out of GOTS, OEKO-TEX, and Fair Trade International Certified cotton — three of the most well respected third-party certifications out there. With a background in sustainable fibers, the founders knew how saturated the market was with inequality, abuse, and dirty cotton. They knew they could provide something better—for the planet, employees, and customers too (their sheets are significantly more affordable than brands like Boll & Branch and Coyuchi).

Hopefully, the more consumers demand accountability and companies continue to prove the market value of getting verified, third-party certifications will become the norm for all companies, thus creating a much more ethical and sustainable economy altogether.

Some of the labels below are true certifications, whereas others are structured more like networks. Some use third-party auditors, while others are based on self-reporting. Some certify raw materials or end products, whereas others certify entire factories or brands.

Bookmark this page and come back to it next time you’re shopping so you know exactly what the labels on your products actually mean!


Environmental Certifications

Although many certifications audit a variety of different aspects of production, the following certifications are primarily focused on environmental impact.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

GOTS is one of the most trustworthy and wholistic certifications. It covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibers. The textiles must meet a certain set of environmental standards (toxicity, wastewater, etc.) as well as social criteria in accordance with the International Labor Organization. There are a number of different certifying bodies that can actually award certification, but all of them use the same standards.

What gets certified? Any textiles (clothing, bedding, towels, and raw fabrics and fibers). You can search their public database by category here.

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: GOTS is an international standard that works in collaboration with organizations around the world.

OEKO-TEX

OEKO-TEX is another trustworthy label that focuses on chemicals. It actually has a number of different certifications they offer, but the Standard 100 is the most common one you’re most likely to come across as a consumer. This certification tests for substances like toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans. Other certifications include the LEATHER STANDARD (for toxic substances in leather), MADE IN GREEN (which goes beyond toxic substances to ensure safe, responsible, and environmentally-friendly production processes), STeP (which is focused on the supply chain), ECO PASSPORT (which also looks at substances, but incorporates more environmental factors), and DETOX TO ZERO (which considers water waste and sludge).

What gets certified? OEKO-TEX certifies raw materials, fabrics, and textiles as well as ready-made goods like apparel, accessories, and home goods. Check out their certified products directory here.

Where will you find this label? Internationally: OEKO-TEX is based in Switzerland and you can find their certifications all over the world.

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

BCI is a non-profit organization that’s encouraging a more sustainable way to source cotton through a defined set of standards. If you see the BCI logo on a product, it means the cotton used comes from a committed BCI Member who pays into the program and who is sourcing at least 5% of their cotton as Better Cotton to start, with a plan to be sourcing at least 50% of their cotton as Better Cotton within five years. It’s a halfway step to organic that is especially useful for farmers who can’t afford to go organic, which can take significant investment and three years to do. 

What gets certified? Anything made of cotton.

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: BCI’s Head Offices are based in Switzerland and the UK, and you can find BCI Members globally.

bluesign

Bluesign is a common certification given to textile manufacturers who are producing in a way that is safe for both humans and the environment. They take into consideration everything from water waste to dye toxicity to worker and consumer safety and more.

What gets certified? Anything made with textiles.

Where you will find this label?  Internationally: Based in Switzerland, there are certified companies around the world.

Cradle to Cradle (C2C)

The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard focuses on the circularity of products. It looks at a product through five categories: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. A product receives an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) in each category. Its overall product label is whichever category has the lowest level (for example, if a product has a platinum in the water stewardship category but a silver in social fairness, then the overall product level is silver).

Since it’s focused primarily on circularity rather than just the ethics of production on the front end, the Cradle to Cradle process and certification could have the potential to transform the way we think about and manufacture consumer goods. Ideally, we will get to a point where everything we make, buy, and own is circular.

What gets certified? Pretty much anything can be C2C certified! Apparel, home goods, toys, furniture, cleaning supplies, building materials, and more. Check out C2C’s product registry here. C2C also has a Fashion Positive Materials Collection, which is a digital resource for C2C Certified materials used in textiles like yarn, fabrics, dyes, etc.

Where will you find this label? Internationally: C2C is an international company based in California and Amsterdam.

Leather Working Group (LWG)

LWG approves and/or rates (Gold, Silver, or Bronze) leather tanneries and leather traders based on how their production processes affect the environment. Audits can be done by several third parties using the same set of standards. They take into account things like waste management, energy consumption, water usage, traceability, restricted substances, and more.

What gets certified? LWG has several different categories: Approved Traders, Rated Leather Manufacturers, and Members (which are the brands using LWG approved traders and manufacturers). Here is a full list.

Where will I find this label?  Internationally: Based in the UK, you’ll find LWG members worldwide.

Organic Content Standard (OCS)

Originally developed for cotton but later expanded to other types of textiles, the OCS provides a strict chain of custody system from the organic raw material source to your finished product.T he OCS Certification was written by the Textile Exchange (originally named Organic Exchange), an international, member-supported, non-profit organization. 

Textile Exchange also has several other certifications, including the Recycled Claim Standard (which is similar in that it provides a strict chain of custody from input to final product), the Global Recycled Standard (which goes beyond the RCS by also ensuring social and environmental practices throughout production), and the Responsible Down Standard (which verifies responsible animal welfare standards on farms in the down supply chain and tracks the feathers from input to final product).

What gets certified? Any non-food product.

Where will you find this label? Internationally: Headquartered in Texas, Textile Exchange works with companies and countries all over the world.

USDA Organic

USDA Organic products are certified by the US government if they meet strict standards in their growing and harvesting process. They cannot be treated with any pesticides, synthetics, fertilizers, hormones, or other types of additives.

What gets certified? We usually think of food products when it comes to USDA Organic, but they can also certify ingredients used in textiles, like cotton or wool.

Where will you find this label? The United States.

 

NSF International

Originally called the National Sanitation Foundation, NSF is a third-party certification that ensures human and environmental safety across several different industries.

What gets certified? Everything from drinking water and water filters, commercial foodservice equipment, nutritional supplements, private label goods, personal care items, home appliances, and clothing. Patagonia, for example, uses NSF’s Global Traceable Down Standard in their winter coats in order to ensure humane animal treatment. You can browse NSF’s directory of consumer resources here.

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: Based in Michigan, NSF is a worldwide organization.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

FSC is a global not-for-profit organization that ensures that companies using timber from an FSC-certified forest meet their standards along the entire supply chain. The FSC has three different labels: FSC 100% (completely from FSC-certified well-managed forests), FSC Recycled (everything comes from recycled material), and FSC Mix (the product is from FSC-certified forests, recycled material, or controlled wood).

What gets certified? Forests, supply chains, retailers, and wood or tree-based end products, but in the realm of fashion, we’re talking about packaging and cellulosic fibers made from trees, such as rayon, viscose, lyocell, modal, and Tencel. You can find the FSC’s list of certified entities here.

Where will you find this label? Internationally: Based in Germany, you will find FSC-certified products all over the world.

Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC)

Still a pretty new certification that is pilot testing, Regenerative Organic Certification goes beyond organic to be a holistic agriculture certification encompassing pasture-based animal welfare, fairness for farmers and workers, and robust requirements for soil health and land management. 

What gets certified? Farms, food, beauty products, apparel, and other goods.

Where will you find this label? Mostly the U.S.: ROC and most of the companies participating in its pilot program are based in the US.

Climate Beneficial

Developed by the non-profit Fibershed, Climate Beneficial wool comes from animals that were raised in such a way that more carbon was sequestered than emitted! Right now, the project is focused on wool, but in the future they may expand to other materials.

What gets certified? Apparel, accessories, and home goods made with wool. You can shop the Fibershed marketplace here.

Where will you find this label? The U.S.: Right now, Fibershed and its collective of farmers, ranchers, weavers, and mill owners are located in California.

ECOCERT

ECOCERT is an independent inspection and certification company that specializes in organic agriculture products. For textiles, the ECOCERT label means the fabric is either GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), OCS (Organic Content Standard), and/or Ecological & Recycled Textiles (Ecocert Standard) certified. 

What gets certified? Food products, cosmetics, raw materials, detergents, and textiles.

Where will I find this label?  Internationally: ECOCERT has accreditation bodies in Europe, the United States, and Japan.

PETA

The PETA-Approved Vegan label signifies that the brand or product has signed PETA’s statement of assurance verifying that their product is vegan. This is based only on self-reporting and brands are not audited to confirm what they state is true. Also, you should know that just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment. In fact, it’s often the opposite; many vegan leather alternatives such as PU are toxic to humans and the earth. Read more about vegan leather alternatives here.

PETA also has a Cruelty-Free bunny logo, which signifies that no animals were harmed in personal care and beauty products. This certification is also based solely on self-reporting.

What gets certified? Any vegan consumer products like apparel, accessories, home goods, and cosmetics. You can see all PETA-approved vegan brands here and get their Cruelty Free Shopping Guide here.

Where will you find this label? Internationally.

 


Fair Labor Certifications

Although many of the following certifications do include an environmental piece to their requirements, they are primarily focused on fair and safe labor standards for workers.

SA8000 

Established by Social Accountability International (SAI), SA8000 is a social certification standard for factories and organizations across the globe. Standards are in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and include things like child labor, forced labor, health and safety, discrimination, working hours, and more.

What gets certified? The factories and organizations that make your goods (not the goods themselves).

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: SAI is based in New York and certifies organizations in 62 countries over 57 industries around the globe.

Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)

WRAP is a social compliance certification that works with facilities primarily in apparel, footwear, and sewn goods . Factories are audited in categories such as forced labor, benefits, and discrimination, and then given a platinum, gold, or silver certification. 

What gets certified? The factories where goods are made.

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: WRAP is based in Virginia and has certified facilities around the world.

Nest

While there are several great certifications that audit labor standards in factories (see above), there wasn’t one that ensured ethical working standards for all of the labor that’s done within homes (where some estimates say as much as 60% of production takes place, according to Nest). In fact, home-based artisan production is the second largest employer of women in developing economies, and this population has not been protected… until Nest came along.

Measuring compliance across a matrix of 130 Standards, Nest’s training-first program is tailored to address the wide degree of variation in decentralized supply chains, which may result from factors such as multiple layers of subcontracting, migrant labor forces, and broad geographic dispersal. The Nest Standards and Seal stand apart for their dedication to cultural sensitivity and handworker ownership in decision-making.

What gets certified? Artisan-made goods like apparel, accessories, furniture, and home goods.

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: Nest is based in New York and works in over 90 countries, with over 500 artisan businesses and over 180,000 handworkers.

Fairtrade International

Fairtrade International works with small farmers, producers, and traders around the globe who meet strict standards. Though the specifics of these standards vary by industry, they include factors like fair wages, safe working conditions, and supply chain transparency, all audited by FLOCERT.

What gets certified? Mostly consumables, Fairtrade International certifies both products and ingredients.

Where will you find this certification?  Internationally: Fair Trade International Certified products come from around the globe.

FLOCERT

FLOCERT is the B2B certifying body that audits for Fair Trade International. They also have a couple other programs: EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) and SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) Social Audits for supply chains.

What gets certified? Mostly consumable products and ingredients.

Where will you find this certification?  Internationally: Technically, brands don’t have to include the FLOCERT logo on their products, since it’s simply the certifying body for Fairtrade International. However, you will see this logo on products and company websites, so it’s good to know what it is. For more detail on the relationships between the different Fairtrade-related organizations, check out their FAQ. FLOCERT works with companies around the world.

Fair Trade USA

It’s a bit confusing because Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA used to be the same entity; however, they separated when Fair Trade USA wanted to give large farms the opportunity to be certified as well. Fair Trade USA uses many of the same labor standards as Fair Trade International, while also including certain environmental standards like the prohibition of GMOs and toxic chemicals. This is the body that certified certain Madewell and J.Crew denim styles as Fair Trade, in fact. 

What gets certified? Ingredients and end products in clothing, food, beauty products, flowers, supplements, shoes, and home goods. Their shopping guide is very user-friendly.

Where will you find this certification?  Internationally: Obviously, Fair Trade USA is based in the United States, but sources from countries around the world.

Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA)

ECA is an accreditation body that works with local textile, clothing, and footwear businesses to ensure their Australian supply chains are legally compliant. That means workers are being paid appropriately, receiving all their legal minimum entitlements, and working in safe conditions throughout the entire supply chain.

What gets certified? Textiles, apparel, and shoes.

Where will I find this label? Australia: Brands that are based in Australia can carry ECA’s logo. Here is a list of ECA accredited brands and manufacturers.

 

 


Holistic Brand Certifications

The certifications below take a holistic approach to address the ethical and sustainable aspects of an entire company.

B Corp

B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance, from supply chain and input materials to employee benefit and more. Each company gets a B Impact score, indicating how much room there is for improvement. B Corp’s long term goal is not just to certify companies, but to usher in a new economy where companies are legally required to balance purpose and profit.

What gets certified? For-profit businesses (not individual products) in pretty much any industry. Check out the B Corp Directory here.

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: B Corp is based in the US and have certified businesses all over the world.

Eco-Age

Eco-Age is a consultancy that awards their brandmark to brands that have been validated by Eco-Age and meet the Eco-Age Principles for Sustainable Excellence. These principles include a wide range of areas, including fair work, community, diversity and inclusion, environmental management, leadership, animal welfare, and more.

What gets certified? Fashion brands who show a commitment to ethical, social and environmental behavior.

Where will I find this label?  Internationally: Based on London, you can download a list of brands with the Eco-Age brandmark here.

 


Membership Networks, Rating Systems, and Other Resources

The following organizations are not true certifications (although you will see their labels on products), but rather a membership networks, rating systems, or other types of resources for businesses, brands, and/or consumers. This distinction is important because most certifications (unless otherwise noted, as with PETA’s certifications) require some sort of regular (usually annual) third party verification in order to ensure strict accountability.

Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

ETI is a network. In order to be a member, companies must adhere to ETI’s Base Code, which ensures that works have freely chosen their employment, are being paid fairly, are working in safe conditions, and more. Companies are required to submit annual reports to prove compliance. ETI also works to play a key role in lobbying governments to set and enforce fair labor laws.

Who can be a member? ETI members include global companies, international trade union bodies, specialized labor rights organizations, and charities.

Where will I find this label? Internationally: You can see a list of ETI’s members here.

Canopy

Canopy is an international nonprofit organization that works with over 750 companies to protect ancient and endangered forests. When it comes to clothing, modal, which is a rayon/viscose fabric, is often used as a ‘sustainable’ alternative to synthetics and more resource-intense natural fibers like cotton. However, Canopy states that using these materials is leading to deforestation, so it’s important to make sure the ‘eco-friendly’ fabrics in your clothing are actually being sourced sustainably. For more on this, read here and here.

Who can be a partner? Brands using materials from forests, like paper or fabrics, who are committed to working toward more sustainable solutions. Check out Canopy’s list of fashion brands they work with here.

Where will you find this label? There isn’t a Canopy label as of right now, but they recommend looking for the FSC certification label (see above).

The Higg Index

Developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Higg Index is a suite of tools that enables brands, retailers, and facilities of all sizes — at every stage in their sustainability journey — to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance. The Higg Index delivers a holistic overview that empowers businesses to make meaningful improvements that protect the well-being of factory workers, local communities, and the environment. The SAC is currently working on developing validation programs to increase transparency and accountability.

Who uses the tools? With several different sets of tools, everyone from brands and retailers to manufacturers to governments and NGOs can use The Higg Index. As of right now, The Higg Index is primarily for B2B use, although they have been saying for years that they are going to develop a consumer-facing version.

Where will I find it?  Internationally: Based in California, membership is available for organizations around the world. Check out the list of members here.

World Fair Trade Organization (WTFO)

WTFO is an assurance mechanism with accountability and development tools for organizations. Entities must go through five major components which verify that they are mission-led, providing solutions to broader issues like overuse of natural resources, women’s empowerment, refugee livelihoods, human rights, inequality and sustainable farming. Although WTFO is not technically a true certification program, it functions very similarly to one.

What gets the label? The enterprises themselves (as opposed to the material or product). You can shop products from WTFO entities here.

Where will you find this label?  Internationally: Based in the Netherlands, you can find WTFO Certified companies globally.

Fair Trade Federation (FTF)

Fair Trade Federation is also a network. In order for a company to be a member, they must meet strict ethical standards—like safe working conditions, living wages, and environmental stewardship—the way they would be a certification. Fair Trade Federation membership is based on self-reporting and is not audited by a third party.

What gets the label? The organization (not the product) in apparel, home goods, beauty products, musical instruments, food and drink, and more. You can shop from FTF businesses here.

Where will you find this label? FTF companies are based in the US and Canada and source from around the world.

Fair Labor Association (FLA)

When companies or suppliers sign on to become FLA compliant, they begin a two or three year implementation process during which they work toward bringing their supply chains into compliance with the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct, which ensures safety and health for workers. At the end of the implementation period, FLA evaluates whether the company can be considered for accreditation.

What gets certified? A company’s supply chain.

Where will I find this label? Worldwide. Here is a list of FLA compliant companies.

Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)

The Fair Wear Foundation is a membership that’s focused specifically on labor standards in the garment industry. The non-profit organization works with garment brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs, and governments to improve working conditions for garment workers to audit and educate based on a set of standards that ensure worker welfare.

What gets the label? Apparel brands.

Where will I find this label?  Internationally: Based in the Netherlands, FWF works with 11 production countries across Asia, Europe and Africa.

1% For the Planet

1% For the Planet is a network that includes companies of any shape or size from any industry who are committed to giving back 1% of their gross sales to help the planet. 1% For the Planet provides advice and helps pair organizations with trusted nonprofits and certifies all donations annually to ensure compliance. 

What gets the label? Any business or organization who has committed to donating 1% of gross sales to environmental non-profits each year. Individuals can now be members of 1% For the Planet as well, by giving 1% of their annual salary to environmental nonprofits through monetary and/or volunteer support.

Where will I find this label? Internationally.

Good On You

Good On You is a rating system. It helps you identify which fashion brands are the “least” and “most” ethical and sustainable based on things like transparency, fair working conditions, environmental production practices, and animal welfare. Each brand gets a rating from worst (“We Avoid”) to best (“Great”). In order for brands to display the “Good On You Rated” label, they must achieve a “Good” or “Great.”

What gets rated? Fashion brands.

Where will I find this label?  Internationally: Based in Australia, Good On You rates brands from around the world and has U.S. and Australia-based apps. Check out their directory or download their app for Apple or Android.

 

Did we miss any important certifications? Comment below or email us at yo@ecocult.com and we will investigate and add to the list.

 

 

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