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How Oeko-Tex Helps Fashion Shake its Planet-Polluting Reputation

While it’s been established that the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters in the world, it can take steps to shake this less-than-flattering reputation, said Elana Taylor, account executive at Hohenstein Institute of America.

“Trends change and the fashion industry can, too,” Taylor said Wednesday during the virtual Functional Fabrics Fair. “By managing supply chains and moving to sustainable sourcing, we can evolve to environmental sustainability.”

She said supply chain management is essential to a progressive brand’s strategy and image.

“Tools for a systematic approach already exist and can help,” Taylor added.

Among those tools are certifications and labels issued by Oeko-Tex, of which Hohenstein, a textile testing organization, is a founding member. Hohenstein, which also works with companies on product development in textiles, is the representative for Oeko-Tex in the U.S and 42 other countries.

Taylor noted that the textile industry uses an estimated 200 tons of water per ton of fabric dyed that go into producing around 27 billion articles of clothing and 20 billion pairs of footwear each year.

“The supply chain for textiles and apparel and is very complex and very large,” she said. “It’s multitiered and dispersed around the world. For example, a large brand can have 1,000 Tier 1 factories that produce finished product. They can also have more than 3,000 Tier 2 and Tier 3 materials suppliers, so managing something like chemical compliance at over 4,000 factories can be a very difficult challenge.”

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Taylor cited estimates of between 4,000 and 8,000 chemicals used to process textiles. Those chemicals, she said, wind up on the textile or in the wastewater, and “we know there’s obvious room for improvement.”

Out of this acknowledgment came Greenpeace’s Detox My Fashion campaign, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) organization and Oeko-Tex. Oeko-Tex’s Eco Passport certification is in sync with the ZDHC gateway list of safe chemicals, she noted.

More than 14,500 companies have earned certifications from Oeko-Tex, which has issued more than 206,000 certificates. Most of them are for all the products that a facility makes.

The Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, the oldest and most widespread of its certifications, means textile products have been tested for harmful substances and, like all of the companies certificates and label, require company and independent auditing, and annual renewal. For Standard 100, all components can and need to be certified, from fabric and yarn, and zippers and buttons ,to pillows and finished garments.

The Made in Green by Oeko-Tex label means products have been tested for harmful substances, made in environmentally friendly facilities, and produced in safe and socially responsible workplaces.

Oeko-Tex’s SteP certification is for factories and other manufacturing facilities and measures environmental performance, health and safety, social responsibility, and environmental, quality and chemical management.

“Our goal is to help companies become more sustainable,” Taylor said. “We know it doesn’t happen overnight, so transparency is built into the process.”

All certificates and labels have a unique number that makes the product traceable and offers a level of transparency depending on the company, Taylor noted, for companies and consumers.