Episode 3: 3 Certifications you should be using.
Global Organic Textile Standard GOTS, Better Cotton Initiative BCI, Forest Stewardship Council - FSC, Responsible Wool Standard RWS, HIGG Material Sustainability Index, Fashion Industry, Sustainability, Materials.
Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello, and welcome to Episode Three of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. This episode probably fits into the conscious creation category actually a little bit of regenerative planet too. But I want to talk about where to start or specifically three certifications that are viewed as being the bare minimum that should be used in your materials choice.
But first, let's talk about why a certification is important, and let's start at the beginning of the design and product development process. Fibre and fabric choice is arguably one of the most important decisions during the design process. According to Elisabetta Boronio, the Sustainability and CSR manager at Timberland 43% of our CO2 emissions come from the choice in our raw material. This highlights just how important the choice is when we're choosing materials, particularly if they are not recycled material, and are what they call virgin materials.
So how does certifications help in this process? One main benefit is that they can do a lot of auditing and background work for you. So when you see a particular logo, you can trust that that supplier has adhered to a certain standard.
The other way it can help is that it can often be a quick way to demonstrate your commitment to be transparent about materials to your consumer. And often your consumer actually recognises these labels too.
So the first one I want to talk about is the global organic textile standard or GOTS, which tracks from field to fashion using onsite inspections and certification of the entire textile supply chain, including fair labour practices. It was established in 2006 and the standard stipulates requirements throughout the supply chain for both ecological and labour conditions in textile and apparel manufacturing using organically produced raw materials. Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic substances or synthetic fertilisers. In addition, it includes welfare standards for animal husbandry, and prohibits genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
Why I think this certification is important is because of it's linked to nurturing the land, and when you are using a lot of chemicals, it becomes safer for the people working in it too. As a comparison, the HIGG Material Sustainability Index calculates that organically grown cotton has roughly half the environmental impact of conventionally grown cotton.
The other thing to consider is the movement towards regenerative farming. So whilst organic is an improvement on conventional farming, it is not defined by its ecological outcomes, more so on the harm minimization, whereas regenerative organic farming focuses on creating positive environmental outcomes, and in a simple sense, adding back into the earth. So I see organic cotton and specifically GOTS accredited cotton as the best choice if you're using virgin fibres because of its strict auditing process at multiple steps in the supply chain and it will be the easiest transition to then move towards regenerative organic cotton.
Just as a little side note, the better cotton initiative BCI is still a great choice and dominates output for the sustainable cotton sector. But I lean more towards organic as I'm trying to incorporate a holistic view that incorporates the planet and currently BCI allows genetically modified cotton seeds and pesticides. (Albeit with an integrated pest management framework that seeks to minimise their use). The other differentiator from what I read is that having the BCI standard generally doesn't give a price premium for farmers, whereas organic farmers can achieve a higher selling price with GOTS accreditation.
The second certification I wanted to talk about is Forest Stewardship Council FSC. Established in 1993, it promotes the responsible management of the world's forests. FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers while ensuring it sustains economic viability. The FSC label can still include a mix, it can include up to 30% of what is called controlled wood. They specify that there are five categories of unacceptable sources for controlled wood, and are not allowed to be mixed with FSC certified material. These are:
- Illegally harvested wood,
- Wood harvested in violation of traditional and human rights,
- Wood harvested in forests in which high conservation values are threatened by management activities,
- Wood harvested in forests being converted to plantations or non forest use,
- Wood from forests in which genetically modified trees are planted.
An FSC label can also include a mix of 50% recycled and 50% full FSC, or it can use all three sources of 40% full FSC 40% recycled and 20% controlled wood.
The reason I'm talking about trees is that forest based textiles such as rayon, viscose model, or lyocell, are increasingly being used in the fashion industry. These are often referred to as cellulose fibres. And if they come from well managed forests, they can be more environmentally friendly than synthetic fibres, such as nylon or polyester, or even natural fibres such as cotton. It's also important when it comes to looking at your packaging.
Finally, the third one I want to talk about is the responsible wool standard RWS. The Responsible Wool Standard is an industry tool designed to recognise the best practices of farmers ensuring that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land and from sheep that have been treated responsibly. As an independent voluntary standard, companies can choose to become certified to the RWS. On farms the certification ensures that sheep are treated with respect to their five freedoms, and also ensures best practices in the management and protection of the land. The standard is globally applicable to all breeds of sheep and mulesing is strictly prohibited.
According to the farm animal welfare Council, the five freedoms of internationally recognised standards for the protection of animal welfare, and they consist of freedom from hunger or thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express most normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress.
The RWS requires all sites to be certified, beginning with the wall farmers and through to the seller in the final business to business transaction. Usually the last stage to be certified is the garment manufacturer or brand. Retailers business to consumers are not required to be certified. Farms are certified to the animal welfare and land management and social modules of the RWS. Subsequent stages of the supply chain are certified to the content claim standard requirements.
The standard follows the chain of custody, starting on the farm, moving through to the trader then sourcing, yarn or fabric and then finishing at the final product. And only products with 100% certified wool may carry the RWS logo.
I think this one is really important for brands to include particularly being in Australia, and how much wool is integrated into our economy and wardrobes.
In conclusion, I just wanted to highlight that all three of these certifications, are trying to uphold best practices for the materials that rely on forest and farms, which all have a huge impact on our planet. As Arizona Muse puts it, "Fashion is deeply connected to agriculture because most of our clothing is grown".
So that's it for this week's episode. Thanks so much for listening. There's a lot of information in this one so you'll be able to find the links and show notes and all the extra details over at belindahumphrey.com forward slash podcast. And if you found something useful or interesting in this episode, hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes. Thanks. See you next time!
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.