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Certifying Textile Satisfaction

The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 serves as a benchmark for environmental friendliness and overall quality in textiles.

TW Special Report

T he lifting of textile import quotas by the World Trade Organization (WTO) has dramatically increased the volume of textile and apparel imports from China and other countries into the United States. The New York Times reported that in January 2005 alone, the United States imported more than $1.2 billion in textiles and apparel from China, up from about $701 million a year ago.

Retailers and consumers must know if products from abroad are environmentally friendly and free of harmful substances. US textile and apparel manufacturers wonder if these products comply with regulatory and safety requirements they must abide by in the United States. The well-established and internationally recognized Oeko-Tex Standard 100 concept can answer these questions.

To assess the growing significance of the standard for the North American market, the executive committee of the International Oeko-Tex Association, Switzerland, recently visited a number of well-known textile and apparel manufacturers in the United States. The delegation included representatives from the Germany-based Hohenstein Research Institute, which was one of the founders of the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 in 1992. The organization currently operates the only two Oeko-Tex branches in North America one in Apex, N.C., and one in Mexico City.

The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 serves as a benchmark for environmental friendliness and overall quality in textiles.

Oeko-Tex Certification In North America
Currently, there are 27 companies in the United States, Canada and Mexico that hold Oeko-Tex certificates. However, in view of the relaxation of trade barriers by the WTO, national manufacturers are becoming more interested in using the internationally recognized Oeko-Tex Standard 100 to position themselves as high-quality providers and to prove it to their consumers in the retail business, said Raimar Freitag, secretary general, Oeko-Tex.

Many companies from all phases of production in North America from suppliers of raw materials and accessories to yarn and fabric manufacturers and garment manufacturers are already involved with the Oeko-Tex certification system. Therefore, expanding the Oeko-Tex network is easy because it is possible to use imported materials that are Oeko-Tex-certified.

For US consumers, issues such as skin-friendliness and other health aspects are more important than ever when buying textiles. It may be a reflection of the general wellness trend or a consequence of changing attitudes about ecology that creates a desire for more sustainability in all aspects of life. One of the early pioneers of Oeko-Tex Standard 100 in the United States is Portland, Ore.-based Hanna Andersson, a mail-order house specializing in apparel for the entire family. According to its catalog and website, "You'll notice that many hannas throughout the catalog are certified, and as we add more, were placing not only softness against babies and childrens skin, but safety as well."

International Importance
Of The Oeko-Tex Label

As a global certification system capable of testing raw materials, interim products and end-products, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 has established itself in the textile chain as a firm benchmark for textiles that aren't harmful to health and the environment. With more than 45,000 certificates issued for millions of individual products, and more than 6,000 companies participating in 80 countries, the Oeko-Tex label is the most well-known and successful brand of its kind, according to the association.

The leading regions with certifications are Europe (68.8 percent) and Asia (28.9 percent). The major selling markets for Oeko-Tex-certified products are the European countries and Japan, where consumers ecological awareness is most strongly developed. There, the Oeko-Tex label can be found in all kinds of retail stores, including mass retailers and food discount stores. Oeko-Tex labels are found so frequently on all categories of articles that it now is almost like a brand name for customers.


Benefits Of The Modular Oeko-Tex System
For Industry And RetailersThe modular principle of Oeko-Tex certification means that licensed companies can minimize their testing costs. Using certified components for their products spreads the costs among all suppliers. Sources for possible harmful substances are likely introduced during manufacturing. However, manufacturers can use production processes that use no hazardous substances.

When the globally accepted Oeko-Tex criteria are used as delivery requirements, product safety is maximized for manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

The test criteria are updated each year and always are based on the latest scientific findings and current legal requirements. The testing for harmful substances is carried out by the independent institutes of the Oeko-Tex Association. Certified products give peace of mind to consumers and are powerful selling arguments for the retail trade. If product properties such as functionality, fashionable design, ease of care and long service life, among others, are similar, home textiles and apparel that bear the Oeko-Tex certificate offer the important benefit of being safe for human health, regardless of where they are manufactured.

Reliable Security:
The Oeko-Tex List Of Criteria

Another advantage of the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is its comprehensive and practical testing scope for textiles. As a general principle, the larger the skin contacts for a textile, the stricter are human-ecological requirements for textile products.The Oeko-Tex list of criteria includes both legally banned and identified harmful substances, and certain parameters for human health protection. Specifically, textile products are tested for carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes, banned azo dyes and pesticide residues. There also are strict limits for formaldehyde, extractable heavy metals, chlorinated phenols, toluene and organo-tin compounds. Finally, textiles must be colorfast and have a skin-friendly pH value.

Requirements For Oeko-Tex Certification
Products can only bear the Oeko-Tex label if all their components satisfy the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 criteria. Those products include non-textile accessories such as zippers, buttons and interlining, among others. An Oeko-Tex certificate is valid for one year and can be extended only after passing the tests again. For quality assurance, authorized Oeko-Tex institutes carry out annual random tests of Oeko-Tex-labeled products purchased in the marketplace at a rate of at least 15 percent of issued certificates.

July 2005