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Frequently Asked Questions About The Chinese Textile And Footwear Market

Manufacturers of textile, apparel and footwear brands must comply with a number of standards and regulations when selling product into the Chinese market.

By Jane Jiang, Ph.D.

Years of sustained growth in the People's Republic of China have prompted an increase in domestic demand for fashion items in a large and mostly untapped market. To help manufacturers of textiles, apparel and footwear brands wanting to prepare for the Chinese market, this article supplies answers to important questions about Chinese standards and regulations for the textile and footwear industries.

Which laws regulate products in China?
The People's Republic of China has a series of laws governing the safety and quality of products that are sold in China. These include the Standardization Law, Product Quality Law, Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests Law, and the Import and Export Commodity Inspection Law.

FAQChinaParka
Chinese demand for fashion apparel has increased in the wake of the country's years of sustained economic growth.

China has a stringent surveillance system for monitoring product standards. This surveillance occurs at the country and province levels, at the port of entry, and even on the shop floor. The Chinese authorities and their associated agencies that inspect products at the port for compliance with the regulations are different from those that monitor products via random selection at stores. If the authority finds products to be non-compliant, the products may be refused entry or confiscated and destroyed at ports, and the brands will be reported to the public. Sometimes, when the products in stores are found to be noncompliant, the brands will be notified to initiate follow-up actions, such as product recalls or rework, within a given time frame. The public also is informed about the results of the product surveillance exercises.

What are common standards for selling apparel in China?
Chinese standards specify the general safety requirements for textile products that are manufactured, distributed or imported into China for sale on the retail market. Standards in China are classified as either mandatory or recommended.

Mandatory standards begin with the initials GB or FZ followed by a number and year. GB stands for Guo Biao, which means "national standard"; and FZ is short for Fang Zhi, which means "textiles standard".

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Recommended standards will have the letter T following the abbreviation for national or textile standard, for example, GB/T or FZ/T. If a product fails to meet the mandatory safety requirements, it is not allowed to be manufactured in, imported into or sold in China. Recommended standards are selected according to the product type, and the standard is named on the product label. If the recommended standard is stated on the label, the selected standard automatically becomes mandatory, and the product must fulfill the specified requirements.

What mandatory standards apply to textiles, apparel and footwear?
There are many mandatory standards in China. They include:

  • GB 5296.4-1998: Labeling of "instructions for use," commonly known as care label, on textile & apparel products;
  • GB 8965.1-2009: Flame-retardant protective clothing requirements;
  • GB 18383-2007: General technical requirements for products with filling materials;
  • GB 18401-2010: National safety technical code for textile products;
  • GB 20400-2006: Restriction on hazardous substances in leather and fur;
  • GB 21550-2008: Restriction on hazardous materials used in artificial leather;
  • GB 25038-2010: Health and safety specification for rubber footwear; and
  • GB 25036-2010: Children's canvas and rubber footwear requirements.

FAQchinafactory
China's stringent surveillance system for monitoring product standards extends even to the shop floor.

What regulations are specific to textiles?
GB 18401-2010 is a mandatory standard for textile products. It specifies the product quality and safety requirements of textile products including apparel, decorative and home textiles that are manufactured, distributed or imported into China; and it forms a basis for quality supervision. This standard defines specific requirements according to product classification: infants' textiles, such as nightgowns, bedding and bibs, among others; textiles that have direct contact with skin, such as underwear, shirts and socks, among others; and textiles that do not have direct contact with skin, such as sweaters, curtains and filling materials, among others.

What regulations apply to leather and fur?
GB 20400-2006 is a mandatory standard that applies to natural leather and fur for retail products. Products used industrially are exempt. Notably, this standard outlines compliance with azo dye and formaldehyde requirements.

GB 21550-2008 is the mandatory standard applicable to artificial leather made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Foamed or nonfoamed forms of PVC are included. Compliance with this standard will protect human health and the environment by limiting the presence of hazardous materials, such as vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), soluble heavy metals (lead and cadmium) and other volatile substances.

What instructions for use must be on textiles and apparel?
GB 5296.4-1998 is a mandatory standard defining the type and the content of consumer information that must be provided on textiles and garments sold in China, regardless of whether they are foreign imports or are domestically manufactured.

The "Instructions for use" tell consumers how to use the product correctly and safely. This information is generally presented in the form of permanent labels and hangtags or detailed user's manuals. The information must be concise, accurate and scientific, yet expressed in plain language; and must be displayed clearly in simplified Chinese. Foreign languages, pinyin, or ethnic minorities' languages also may be used, but the font size must not be larger than the corresponding Chinese characters. Any use of care symbols must conform to the Chinese standards.

On permanent labels, information must be legible throughout the product's life. If labels are sewn in, they should be made of materials that have similar shrinkage properties to those of the surrounding materials of the product. The following information must be included on permanent labels:

  • product type and size;
  • fiber content; and
  • washing and care instructions.

On detachable hangtags or user's manuals, information must include:

  • product name;
  • country of origin, in the case of foreign imports;
  • manufacturer's name and address;
  • washing and care instructions;
  • applicable product standard and quality level; and
  • certificate of quality inspection and safety technical category.

What does "recommended product standards" mean?
In addition to a product's mandatory standards, an importer should declare the correct and appropriate recommended standards. In China, there are hundreds of specific standards for different types of apparel and footwear. For example, product standard GB/T 2660 applies to shirts and blouses, and FZ/T 81006 applies to jeanswear.

Standards in China cover all production requirements, ranging from inspection, workmanship production guidelines and testing requirements for product performance. There are also quality grades for each product standard: qualified grade; first grade; and high-class grade. Apparel should at least meet the lowest quality grade for the product standard, and the quality grade should be declared with the product standard on the hangtag.

Although these standards are recommended, once declared, they are considered as mandatory from the Chinese authority point of view. If your products fail to meet the declared requirements, they are not allowed to be sold in the Chinese market. Therefore, careful planning is required to avoid failing to comply with Chinese laws.

Which recommended product standards apply to apparel?
It is important your product is correctly classified. Examples of some recommended standards include:
  • GB/T 2664: Men's suits and coats;
  • GB/T 2665: Women's suits and coats;
  • GB/T 2666: Trousers;
  • GB/T 2660: Shirts and blouses;
  • GB/T 14272: Down garments;
  • FZ/T 81003: Children's clothing and students' wear;
  • FZ/T 81004: Skirts and skirted suits;
  • FZ/T 81006: Jeanswear;
  • FZ/T 81007: Casualwear;
  • FZ/T 81008: Jackets; and many more


Editor's note: Jane Jiang, Ph.D., is Softlines technical director of Asia Pacific, SGS Consumer Testing Services, a Switzerland-based testing, verification and certification company with laboratories in more than 35 locations worldwide.

August 21, 2012