Certifications Guide

Understanding Fashion and Textile Certifications: A Comparative Guide

As the fashion industry slowly but surely is adopting more sustainable and ethical practices, certifications have become essential for brands to validate their commitments. With numerous certifications available, each focusing on different aspects of sustainability and ethics, it can be challenging to navigate which one best fits your brand’s values and goals. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the key fashion and textile certifications, highlighting their unique focuses and differences, and clarifies the distinction between product certifications and factory or brand certifications.

Product Certifications vs. Factory/Brand Certifications

Before diving into specific certifications, it’s crucial to understand the difference between product certifications and factory or brand certifications.

  • Product Certifications: These certifications focus on the attributes of the final product, such as the materials used, the environmental impact of its production, and compliance with specific standards. Examples include SANE, GOTS and GRS.
  • Factory/Brand Certifications: These certifications assess the overall practices and policies of a manufacturing facility or the entire brand. They often encompass broader criteria, including labor conditions, environmental management systems, and corporate governance. Examples include WRAP and SA8000, which certify factories, and B Corps, which certifies the business management but not the suppliers.

Key Fashion and Textile Certifications

1. SANE Standard

SANE is the next-gen certification for sustainable fashion products, covering environmental, workers’ rights, and consumer health aspects. SANE Standard is a multistakeholder initiative and a member of the United Nations Fashion and Lifestyle Network.

Through its standard, SANE offers a concrete definition of sustainability for fashion products, answering the new EU legal requirements as well as customer expectations regarding sustainability claims on fashion products.

SANE Standard is designed to help consumers easily identify ethically made products and support fashion brands in communicating their sustainable commitments. Its holistic approach ensures that products are not only eco-friendly but also ethically produced and safe for consumers.

SANE accepts a variety of 45 types of materials including recycled, regenerative, organic, upcycled, responsible produced.

2. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

GOTS is a product certification for organic fibers. It ensures the organic status of textiles from the harvesting of raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing to labeling. GOTS covers all stages of production and prohibits the use of certain chemicals, ensuring the end product is safe for consumers and the environment.

3. Global Recycled Standard (GRS)

GRS is another product certification, focusing on products made from recycled materials. It verifies the recycled content and ensures responsible social, environmental, and chemical practices in production. GRS certification is ideal for brands committed to reducing waste and promoting recycling within their supply chains.

4. SA8000

SA8000 is a factory certification standard for organizations worldwide. It measures social performance in areas such as child labor, forced labor, health and safety, free association and collective bargaining, discrimination, disciplinary practices, working hours, and remuneration. SA8000 is suitable for brands focused on ensuring ethical treatment of workers throughout their supply chains.

5. Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)

Fair Wear is a foundation that promote fair labor practices within the garment industry. It aims to improve workplace conditions, advocating for fair wages, reasonable working hours, and safe working environments. Fair Wear membership is not a certification.

6. B Corporation (B Corps)

B Corps is a certification for brands that meet higher standards of social performance, responsibility and transparency. It is not specific to fashion but applies to all types of businesses committed to sustainability and social good.
There are concerns about the effectiveness of impact measurement, as some believe that the certification does not always translate into substantial, tangible improvements in sustainability practices. Critics point out that some companies may use B Corps certification more as a marketing tool rather than a commitment to genuine change, diluting the certification’s value.

7. Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA)

Sedex provides a globally recognized audit methodology to assess labor, health and safety, environment, and business ethics. Sedex audits help brands ensure ethical practices across their supply chains. SMETA is a methodology, Sedex is a membership organisation, none of them are certifications schemes.

8. Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)

WRAP certification ensures that manufacturing practices are safe, lawful, humane, and ethical. It covers a range of labor and workplace standards and is one of the largest independent certification programs in the apparel sector, however, it is not one of the most ambitious, particularly when it comes to workers’ pay requirements.

9. Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

BCI promotes better standards in cotton farming and practices. It aims to make global cotton production better (but not necessarly organic) for the people who produce it, the environment it grows in, and the sector’s future. BCI is not a certification.

Key Differences

  • Focus Areas: Each certification emphasizes different aspects of sustainability and ethics. For instance, GOTS focuses on organic and sustainable farming practices, while Fair Wear and SA8000 concentrate on labor rights and working conditions.
  • Scope: Certifications like GOTS and GRS cover specific materials and their processing, whereas B Corps and Sedex encompass business practices, including corporate governance and supply chain ethics.
  • Industry Specificity: Some certifications, such as WRAP and Fair Wear, are specific to the apparel industry, while others like B Corps and Sedex are applicable across various sectors.
  • Certification Process: The rigor and complexity of the certification process can vary. For example, B Corps certification involves a comprehensive assessment of the entire business, which can be challenging for smaller companies, while others like GOTS focus more on the production process. Membership organizations like Fair Wear and Sedex provide valuable resources and support but do not independently verify compliance through audits.
    SANE Standard recognizes several high standards in the industry. Brands that are already certified by recognized standards such as GOTS, GRS, and SA8000 will find it easier to achieve SANE certification, as these certifications align with some of SANE’s requirements.

Alignment with the EU Green Claims Directive

The EU Green Claims Directive aims to ensure that environmental claims made by companies about their products are clear, accurate, and substantiated. This directive is part of a broader strategy to combat greenwashing and ensure transparency and trust in sustainability claims.

To comply with the EU Green Claims Directive, certifications must provide rigorous, third-party verification. Some key points of alignment include:

  • SANE Standard, GOTS, GRS: These certifications involve comprehensive third-party audits, ensuring that environmental and ethical claims are substantiated and credible. This alignment with the directive helps brands avoid accusations of greenwashing and ensures their claims are trustworthy.
  • Fair Wear Foundation and Sedex: While these membership organizations offer valuable resources and promote best practices, they do not provide formal third-party certification. As a result, brands relying solely on membership in these organizations may not fully comply with the directive’s requirements for verified claims.
  • B Corps: Although B Corps certification covers broad aspects of social and environmental performance, it uses a scoring system rather than a pass/fail audit process. This method may not fully meet the directive’s stringent requirements for clear and substantiated environmental claims.

By understanding these differences, brands can choose the certifications that not only align with their sustainability goals but also comply with the latest regulatory requirements, ensuring their environmental claims are both credible and legally compliant.

Choosing the Right Certification

Selecting the appropriate certification or membership organization depends on your brand’s specific sustainability goals and priorities. To meet consumer expectations for comprehensive, holistic ethics, and aesthetically appealing labelling, and to comply with the EU Green Claims Directive, it’s essential to choose certifications that offer rigorous, third-party verification.

For a balanced approach that addresses multiple facets of sustainability, SANE Standard offers a comprehensive certification covering environmental, social, and consumer health aspects. This holistic certification ensures that your claims are credible and meet regulatory requirements. However, if your brand has a specific focus, such as organic materials or fair labor practices, certifications like GOTS or SA8000 may be more suitable.

Investing in credible certifications not only enhances your brand’s reputation but also contributes to a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry. Each certification has its unique strengths, and understanding these can help you choose the one that best aligns with your brand’s values and objectives.

Picture: Anastasiya Doicheva

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