These are the most important ethical fashion certifications you need to know if you want to consume consciously
By Katy Caric
The lexicon of sustainable fashion can be a really vague. Terms that appear in brand blurbs could mean pretty much anything. For example: what does ethical production, or environmentally-sound manufacturing really mean in practice, anyway? These terms leave a whole lot of room for guess work, and open up the possibility for greenwashing on the part of brands that are, in fact, far from ethical.
As sustainable fashion fans, we also have to constantly sift through new certification types and “in vogue” terms. To illustrate, lots of luxury brands boast their goods are handmade or produced by artisans, but does that mean they were paid ethically? What about local sourcing: how vast of an area counts as ‘local’? And what exactly constitutes an artisan, as opposed to a skilled worker?
A more secure way to evaluate a brand’s sustainable practices is through ethical fashion certifications. To simplify this process, I’m breaking down the ethical fashion certifications that we look for and trust when evaluating the sustainability factor of a fashion brand.
10+ Ethical Fashion Certifications You Need To Know
Who made your clothes? If you want to ensure that they were produced ethically, look for clothing brands that participate in the Fashion Revolution. This will clearly indicate that their manufacturing processes ensure fair wages to all employees, and that all production stages are fully traceable and transparent. Fashion Revolution doesn’t yet provide actual ethical fashion certifications, but from what we understand, they’re working on one. Watch this space!
This ethical fashion certification evaluates organic agricultural products that could comprise garments. Think: organic cotton, hemp or linen, for example.
EcoCert started in France and has since expanded internationally. They provide agricultural training and help make plans to move farms to more organic practices. EcoCert also certifies textiles made with organic grown materials according to Organic Content Standards. The aim of this standard is to guarantee the traceability and integrity of raw materials during all stages of manufacturing.
If the cotton is produced in Pakistan, the weaving done in India, the cutting done in Bangladesh, the assembly done in China, and the printing done in the U.K, it’s really easy to get standards mixed up. But the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is one of the most trusted ethical fashion certifications out there. That’s because it unifies standards between countries and stages of production. It verifies the organic status of 70% of textiles. It can be found on clothing made from organic cotton, hemp, wool or linen.
Today, GOTS has 19 authorised certification bodies monitoring 1.4 million workers and 4,600 facilities operating under their conditions.
Sewing is one of the most labor-intensive phases of production. It’s also the phase where the most labor problems are. So the Fairwear Foundation is one of the ethical fashion certifications that focuses on practical changes for garment workers.
Fairwear Foundation membership means a brand has followed set steps based on the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. Employment must be chosen freely; children under 15 are not employed; equal opportunities are given to all employees; workers have a right to unionise; all employees have the right to equal opportunities, collective bargaining, a living wage, a safe environment, regular employment and reasonable hours. In short, it’s all about the human factor in production.
The Fairwear Foundation is based in Europe and works with brands that use European production.
This is arguably the best known of all the ethical fashion certifications. The Oeko-Tex Standard tells you the textiles your wearing doesn’t contain toxic chemicals. This is especially important for children’s clothing and sleepwear.
The system they use has four tiers, and includes illegal chemicals, chemicals that are legal, but which are considered harmful to health, chemicals considered generally safe, and safe chemicals.
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 can be used over the various production phases. Compliance testing is done by independent inspectors. Often, you’ll see Oeko-Tex certification next to GOTS certification.
Everything that grows goes back into the ground eventually, and Cradle 2 Cradle is all about this lifecycle. In short, Cradle 2 Cradle certification focuses on the organic health of a garment’s material. It checks its recyclability, renewable energy use, water efficiency quality, and the social responsibility behind its production.
In short, it’s an excellent indication of both solid ethics and sustainability.
After the human rights abuses the global fashion industry was exposed in the 1990’s, the Ethical Trading Initiative was launched to better oversee manufacturing centres. Their mission is very straightforward: to protect workers’ rights in global supply chains. They focus on the same nine principles as the Fairwear Foundation.
For me, brands that are a part of the ETI indicate they are willing to start making ethical improvements. But it’s just a first step. In my opinion, member brands, which include H&M, for example, still have a long way to go in making sure their supply chains are ethical and transparent.
The bluesign® standard is one of the ethical fashion certifications that focuses mainly on sustainable fashion. It indicates that a textile has the smallest ecological footprint possible. Bluesign assesses brands from the bottom up, looking carefully at their resource productivity, consumer safety, water emissions, air emissions, and occupational health and safety standards.
This certification is great for those looking to check a brand’s environmental footprint and employment practices.
Corporations are often seen as the enemy of sustainable development. But B Corporations are working to provide an environmentally friendly alternative. Those brands that sport a B Corporation Certification have demonstrated that they meet a long list of social and environmental performance standards, and have a legal structure focused on corporate accountability.
Certified B Corporations believe they have a responsibility to both communities and the planet. It’s a new model for more transparent, circular, positive business practices. It can be applied not only for clothing brands, but also food growers and beyond.
Fair Trade Certified most often applies to food, but it can do for garments, as well. It just means that people in the supply chain of a product have been paid fairly for their work and products, often above current market rates, and work in safe conditions.
The treatment of people is put first and foremost, and you can rest assured that certified brands are helping to develop communities in some of the poorest areas in the world. Some common Fair Trade Certified brands you might know include Patagonia and prAna .
This is another one of the best known ethical fashion certifications.
As most people know, animal welfare organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is committed to the rights of animals worldwide. To ensure that brands and stores are selling 100% vegan products, they have developed the PETA-Approved Vegan certificate.
With this certification, a brand promises that they use zero animal products in all their collections. The certificate is issued in good faith – there is no strict monitoring of compliance with the requirements. But you can bet that the vegan community would be quite vocal about a brand breaking their promises! In addition to clothing, the certificate may be applied to accessories and sports and home items.
One of the final ethical fashion certifications. you need to know is Friend of the Earth.
This is a leading global certification standard for products and businesses that adhere to sustainable practices. Friend of the Earth works with many forward-thinking companies in the fashion industry that take sustainability seriously, and the certification allows consumers to shop with confidence.
In a nutshell, to earn the Friend of the Earth certification, fashion products and textiles must originate from Friend of the Earth certified agricultural or farming products. They can also come from recycled products that have been produced in ways that respect both environment and workers.