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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.

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