We all love wrapping ourselves in a plush throw when the air gets chilly and we all appreciate the fresh smell of a towel that was just removed from the clothesline. But did you ever stop to wonder where that favorite blanket or towel was before it became a staple in your home?
It started as a tiny little plant in a field somewhere or as a fluffy sheep with extra wool to share. Then it joined up the transformation path: from raw material, to yarn, to weaving, to finished product. That process involves many steps and, along the way, the fibers can potentially be exposed to chemical treatments and dyes. Even when claims of organic farming are made, it doesn't mean there were no external chemical inputs later in the fabrication process.
Babies and young children are especially vulnerable to toxins that come into contact with their skins. While we might think that a good wash will get rid of most of them, it's not the case. Chemicals that find their way in the fibers don't go away so easily and will slowly leach out over time.
While choosing fabrics made from natural fibers is a good start, certification standards through third-party oversight is the safest way to know that your favorite blanket is free from harmful substances.
Today we're looking at three of them.
OEKO-TEX certification is an international, independent mark of quality established in 1992. It is still known today as the STANDARD 100 as, when it was first introduced, it tested for about one hundred chemicals like pesticides, carcinogenic dyes and heavy metals. Today the standard covers an array of several hundred harmful substances.
The OEKO-TEX certification applies to raw, semi-finished and finished textile products. This certification focuses on the product itself and how it affects the end customer. It does not take into consideration how the fibers are grown. Textile products certified according to this standard are reassuringly free from harmful substances.
Four product classes exist, the strictest one being the Class I which is applied to textile products that are likely to be in contact with babies. The more intensive the skin contact of a textile (and the more sensitive the skin), the stricter the requirements that need to be fulfilled in terms of human ecology.
The certification process also requires that the producer have quality insurance systems in place to insure that the textile quality is maintained.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
The GOTS certification criteria takes into consideration the entire organic textile supply chain. It also requires compliance with certain social and environmental standards. It aims at delivering textile products that are free from harmful substance but that were also produced in a sustainable way, respectful of the environment and of the workers.
As a textile processing standard, GOTS does not set its own standard for farming. Instead, it relies on other certification bodies to determine if the raw material was grown according to organic standards. It is, however, very strict about the composition of textile which, to be labeled "organic", must have at least 95 % of organic raw material.
The GOTS certification also considers the workers. The label confirms that they were not be exposed to toxic chemicals during production. The manufacturer must also respect the International Labor Organization convention which includes a ban on child and forced labour. Other environmental aspects such as wastewater management and energy consumption are also considered.
GOTS is a very high standard of certification, for which very few companies can claim successful registration. It's one of the most comprehensive certification process and promises quality, sustainability and safety to the consumers.
Masters of Linen
The Masters of Linen certification is different from the two others. It's a geographical label that allows complete traceability of a product, from field to finished product. Created in 1951, the European organization promotes the local flax and hemp textile industry and also has a technical section that support innovation.
Linen (or flax) is the only plant textile fibre that is native of the European continent and it is therefore cultivated at close-proximity to European manufacturers. Almost 80 % of the world production originates from the continent, mostly from the northern countries.
The Masters of Linen logo indicates to the consumers that the product they are acquiring is made from 100% European linen and that it is traceable. While flax is a low maintenance, sustainable crop that requires very little water to grow, its environmentally friendly qualities are often combined with the OEKO-TEK certification to guarantee the final product is free from harmful substances.