It’s a certification jungle out there
When you shop for clothes in the store or online, you will notice that more and more garments have little tags with one or more certification logos on them. These tags tell you that this particular garment has been certified to be particularly environmentally friendly, workers have been paid well, or that no animals have suffered for the production of the product. These certifications allow you to easily make an informed purchasing decision taking the social and environmental impact into consideration. At least that is the theory. We all find ourselves sometimes confused about the sheer amount of different labels, certifications, and standards available in the market which makes shopping yet harder, not easier.
At Core Merino, we are also certified for a range of standards which is why we thought to provide some guidance into the certification jungle out there.
What are standards, certifications, and labels actually?
Let’s start at the beginning and the beginning actually being a standard. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) defines standards the following way:
Standards are documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines or definitions, to ensure that materials, products, processes, and services are fit for their purpose.
The reason for having standards in the first place is to ensure product safety, improve product quality, provide information and transparency to consumers as well as facilitate trade and compatibility of products (an easy example are our phone chargers which work across many devices).
Furthermore, we distinguish between two types of standards – 1) product standards and 2) process standards.
Product standards are specifications and criteria defining the characteristic of products. Process standards on the other hand are a set of criteria defining the way products are made.
In the case of clothes, most standards you will find are social or environmental standards, and they fall into the category of process standards as they provide certain criteria on how the garments are made such as health and safety working conditions. The sizing of garments on the other hand would fall into the category of a product standard as garment sizes are standardised (even though they tend to vary a bit) across different countries.
The next important part to understand about the standard is the certification in accordance with a particular standard. ISO again defines certification as ‘a procedure by which a third-party gives written assurance that a product, process, or service is in conformity with certain standards’. In other words, don’t take the brand’s word for it that they produced a garment in accordance with a standard, instead trust the independent third-party certification body.
Finally, the successful certification can then be communicated to the final consumer through a label or symbol indicating compliance with the particular standard. This brings us back to the label you may have found on a garment you were interested in purchasing.
You may now feel just the same level of confusion as before, so let’s bring in some concrete examples to make this topic easier to grasp.
Animal Welfare standards
As wool is grown on the back of sheep, the good treatment of sheep is important. In all major wool growing countries, the welfare of animals is protected by law. However, there is a constant movement within society towards raising the bar of what we understand to be good care for animals. This movement towards higher animal welfare is reflected within Animal Welfare Standards. These animal welfare standards are developed by NGOs, industry bodies, or individual companies. The best-known examples for sheep and wool are the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), ZQ, or Authentico. In order for wool growers to be certified for one of these standards, they need to provide data about the existing processes and procedures implemented on their farm that ensure good welfare of their sheep. In addition, third-party certification bodies perform audits on the wool grower’s farm regularly to verify that the wool grower indeed takes good care of his sheep.
The creation of garments is quite a labor-intensive undertaking. In every step of the (wool) textile supply chain, people are involved starting with the wool grower on the farm up to the seamstress sewing the final garment. While it is important that sheep are treated well, it is also critical that the people working in the garment sector are treated well, can work in healthy and safe working conditions, and receive a fair wage. There are many social standards that verify if these important factors are ensured. Examples are the Clean Clothes Campaign or the Fair Wear Foundation.
It is of course also important to verify that products are produced without harming the environment. Unfortunately, the textile industry is known to be one of the most polluting industries which is why there are many environmental standards that aim to raise the bar for how garments can be produced harmonizing with nature. Environmental protection in itself is complex and contains many aspects such as chemicals, water, and energy use, biodiversity, carbon footprint, microplastics, etc. Each standard covers one or several environmental aspects. Well-known examples are GOTS, Blue Sign, or ZDHC.
Complexity and Choices
In summary, there are many standards, and you will quickly notice that each brand may offer a different combination of certifications for their company and sometimes even within their product range. This adds even more so to the complexity of the Standards Jungle. On the upside, this wide range of standards offers you as the customer choices. You can decide what is important to you and reflect that in your purchasing decision. If good animal welfare is important to you, you can seek out brands that are certified for welfare standards. If paying garment workers above the living wage is a priority for you, then search for brands that have this value in common with you. Once you get into the different standards, you will also find brands that will offer a range of certifications that cover several standards.
Certifications at Core Merino
Finally, at Core Merino we are of course also certified for a range of standards that are particularly important to us and our business. As all our garments are made of wool, we hold animal welfare very highly within our business values. All of our wool growers adhere to the Sustainable Cape Wool Standard.
Once the wool leaves our warehouse we can always track exactly where it is, as we work closely with all our supply chain partners. The processing of our garments only takes place at Blue Sign certified facilities. The blue sign standard focuses on the natural resources and chemicals used in textile production.
If you want to find out more about how we do things are Core Merino, please visit our website here.