Many brands and retailers use Restricted Substance Lists (RSLs) to ensure the safety of their textile supply chain, as discussed in the feature in the June 2009 AATCC Review. But sometimes, especially in product categories like children-wear, brands want to offer their consumers a third-party guarantee of safety.
Some groups have arisen, both independently and amongst suppliers, to offer these certifications of safety. "Certifications are available like Okeo-Tex, EU Flower, and EcoLabel, but the products bearing these certificates are still subject to testing, as the certificates are issued to one set of products submitted by manufacturers and valid for all the products manufactured for the entire year of certification," says Nagaraj K, laboratory manager at TV SD South Asia Pvt. Ltd.
Oeko-Tex is the largest of the certification programs. "For companies in the textile and clothing industry, the Oeko-Tex criteria catalog provides, for the very first time, a uniform, scientifically-founded evaluation standard for the human ecological safety of textiles, against the background of the globalized and extremely fragmented nature of the textile manufacturing chain," says Carmine Carlo Ammirati, research and development director at Alcantara Spa, a joint venture between Toray Industries (Japan) and ENI Group (Italy).
Ammirati says that the Oeko-Tex certification is also a good marketing tool with regards to the consumer. "[It] indicates to interested end-users the additional benefits of tested safety for skin-friendly clothing and other textiles."
Manfred Wentz, head of Oeko-Tex Certification Body (USA), says that, besides substances usually listed in RSLs, Oeko-Tex lists additional skin-sensitizing substances. Oeko-Tex has issued 73,000 certifications to manufacturers in more than 80 countries since its introduction in 1992, says Wentz, and has kept data for every test it has done, for tracking purposes. (Oeko-Tex doesn't release test data outside of the company it is certifying without the company's permission. It only publicly issues a "pass" or "fail" on certification.)
What makes Oeko-Tex special, Wentz says is its modular approach-individual components are tested as well as the final product. "This helps not only for verifications for safety, but also for cost-sharing," Wentz notes. "It spreads the costs throughout the production chain. Thus, zippers, sewing threads, and care labels manufacturers can all get Oeko-Tex certification."
Assessment of the final product is important. If all components have valid certificates, the final product does not need any further testing. It can get the Oeko-Tex label that states consumers can have "Confidence in Textiles" since the product has been tested for harmful substances according to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100.
"The bluesign standard is a holistic input stream management," says Peter Waeber, CEO of bluesign technologies. Bluesign is a proactive system that regulates more than 600 restricted or banned substances.
What makes bluesign special is something they call Input Stream Management: instead of only examining the manufacturers' final product, the bluesign system demands the advance testing of all components and processes involved in manufacturing the product. All input flows are examined, with only those materials that meet the bluesign standard integrated into the production cycle. "This way the use of dangerous substances is excluded before the manufacturing process has even begun," says Waeber.
The bluesign system color-codes chemical substances: blue means anything non-hazardous; grey indicates components and processes that can only be used in production under certain conditions, under the principle of the Best Available Technology (the substances concerned may be questionable, but there exist no reasonable substitutes, and their benefits are important); black indicates banned substances excluded from production.
"Consistently applied, [the bluesign system] contributes to ensuring a clean production which is environmentally sound and doesn't waste resources," says Waeber. "Therefore, the testing afterwards can be reduced to a minimum-that means reduction of costs."