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Thursday, 31 January 2013

How does Oeko-Tex Standard 100 work to keep you safe?

You’ve read so much about the goodness of Oeko-Tex. You’d naturally want to know how the whole thing works. Hence, this post, our third and final one on the subject.

It all starts with the following premise: If a clothing brand claims that its products are safe, one should be able to test the claim. But is there such a test? Fortunately for us, there is. It’s a battery of tests, to be exact. And the International Oeko-Tex Association decides what to test for.

Every year, the Association publishes a list of substances that are to be tested. Basically, the testing institutes accredited by the Association test for the following:

  • Legally banned and controlled substances; and
  • Substances known to be harmful to human health but are not yet legally controlled (some pesticides fall into this category).

A lab technician at one of the testing institutes

There’re several noteworthy characteristics about the tests. First, the greater the amount of skin contact the clothing has during use, the more stringent the tests. Second, when taken in their entirety, the tests often go well beyond the national legislations of individual countries, including Australia, Japan and those in the West. Third, they’re updated annually to ensure that they conform to the latest developments in science and technology. Finally, there’s transparency: clothing companies as well as consumers can easily find out what substances get tested.

The Standard is founded on a test-and-certification system. Clothing companies that want to get certified must make sure their products do not contain any of the listed substances at a concentration level that poses a health risk to humans. To ensure compliance, systematic as well as random tests are carried out by accredited and independent testing institutes on the companies’ products. (To learn more about Oeko-Tex, watch this video.)

You should also know this: A clothing brand can only get certified if its supply chain is Oeko-Tex Standard 100-certified. That is, the raw materials and the finished products, plus every stage in between, have to be tested and certified. For your information, the dyes and dyeing processes are part of the “every stage in between.” So are the buttons, zips, labels and other accessories. That’s how extensive the Standard is. And if any of the upstream processes isn’t certified, a clothing brand cannot attain certification. This is a reflection of Oeko-Tex’s modular principle: The whole is only as good as the sum of its parts

How do I know whether my favourite brand is Oeko-Tex Standard 100-certified?

An Oeko-Tex Standard 100 dummy logo

Easy. What you should look for is the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 logo (see inset) on the packaging. A word of clarification: What you see here is a dummy logo. A real one will have an alphanumeric code at the bottom left corner (as opposed to the zeroes you see here); this code represents the brand or the factory that made the clothes. A real one will also have the name of the testing institute at the bottom right corner.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Why Is Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Important to You?

Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is about safe-to-wear clothing. When people hear this for the first time, most react this way: “Aren’t our clothes safe?” It’s a legitimate response. The question is, how can you and I know for sure they are actually safe? The truth is, the production of clothing raw materials and the production of clothing can be chemically intensive; and some of the chemicals used in the two processes are detrimental to health. It’s then possible that the clothes we wear are unsafe. Here's a real example: research has shown that the poisonous and persistent pesticides applied during conventional cotton production can be detected in cotton clothing—these residual chemicals can leach into your skin and harm your health.

There’s then this other reaction: “I’m wearing clothes made from organic/eco-friendly material. They’re safe.” Such materials are, no doubt, good. But just because something is made from them doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe. The reason: if a factory uses the best and safest material but the wrong manufacturing process, the end product will still be a bad one—and “bad” here can mean unsafe. Hence, the manufacturing process must also be safe.

You may wonder, how bad can it get? Quite bad, actually. Take the dyeing process. Some dyes are carcinogenic and/or allergenic (for example, certain AZO dyes); and some contain heavy metals, substances that can build up in our bodies over time and cause serious health problems. Then there’s formaldehyde, which is used in wrinkle-free clothing, and is a known human carcinogen and allergen. Let’s not forget the phthalates, a family of chemicals which is frequently used in the production of soft plastic articles, printing and coatings—phthalates have been blamed for the big drop in male fertility globally over the past few decades. The list of nasty stuff is long and we can go on and on. The main point is this: clothing consumers like you and I are exposed to health risks.

Oeko-Tex Standard 100 helps us to differentiate the safe from the unsafe. In our next post, we will share with you how the Standard works to keep you safe.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Oeko-Tex Standard 100

In our last couple of posts, we wrote about Austria’s Lenzing Group and its amazing product, Tencel. If you will recall, Lenzing is the winner of multiple prestigious environmental awards in Europe. Besides that, the Group has something called Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification. Many consumers in this part of the world aren’t familiar with Oeko-Tex. This is unfortunate because it’s an important standard. In this post, we explain what it's about.

What is Oeko-Tex Standard 100? Firstly, it’s a standard and not an award. When we complain in our everyday language that something is not up to “standard,” it means that that thing has not met the “required or agreed level of quality or attainment” (as defined by my trusty old dictionary).

There are many standards today, some local, some international. Some of us have heard of ISO 9000. It’s an international standard for quality management, and it’s developed and published by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. Another international standard that is increasingly popular is the ISO 14000 for environmental management.

Like the ISO 9000, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is a type of standard. But unlike the ISO 9000, it’s an international standard for human ecological safety, and it’s developed and published by the International Oeko-Tex Association in Switzerland.

What does human ecological safety mean? In the context of this post, it simply means clothing safety. That is, if a piece of clothing has been certified Oeko-Tex Standard 100, it's safe to wear. Furthermore, Oeko-Tex is by most accounts the world’s highest standard for human ecological safety. Which means that Oeko-Tex-certified clothing is one of the safest—if not the safest—in the world. 

Why is safety so important to consumers? This is the big question, and we’ll answer it in our next post.