If you are looking for truly chemical free-clothing, this post will get you up-to-speed on the certification you want to look for. It’s called the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and it’s the gold standard when it comes to organic clothing. Whether you are looking for organic baby clothes or organic clothes for kids, you’ll want to look for the GOTS label.
What is the Global Organic Textile Standard?
GOTS lays out criteria for the manufacturing, labeling, packaging and distribution of raw fibers (cotton, wool, silk, linen) that are certified organically-grown by a national or international farming standard. By only allowing certified organic fibers to qualify for GOTS certification, GOTS promotes organic and biodynamic farming and avoids GMOs, toxic pesticides and fertilizers.
Throughout every step of the manufacturing process (pre-treatment, dyeing, printing and finishing), GOTS prohibits the use of a long list of toxic chemicals so that they do not end up in the environment, harming factory workers or as toxic residues on the final product. Some of these include:
- chlorine bleach
- endocrine disruptors
- chlorinated plastics (i.e. PVC)
- brominated and chlorinated flame retardants
- complexing agents and surfactants (i.e. NPEs)
- plasticizers (i.e. PAH, phthalates, Bisphenol A)
- per- and polyfluorinated compounds (i.e. PFOA)
- heavy metals: antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, mercury, selenium, silver, zinc, tin
- azo colorants
Also, buckles, buttons and press-studs, edgings, elastic bands and yarns, embroidery yarns, fasteners and closing systems, inlays, interface, labels, interlinings, pockets, seam bindings, sewing threads, shoulder pads, zips cannot contain asbestos, carbon fibers, silver fibers, chrome, nickel, material from threatened animals, plant or timber or chlorinated plastics such as PVC.
Packaging must not contain PVC. Paper or cardboard in packaging material, hang tags or swing tags must be recycled or certified by the FSC or PEFC. Factories must have a policy for how to handle waste in an ecologically responsible manner. And finally, manufacturers must follow the key conventions of the International Labor Organization:
- Labor cannot be forced or bonded
- Workers have the right to join or form trade unions and bargain collectively
- Working conditions are safe and hygienic (must teach fire prevention and practice evacuation drills)
- No child labor
- Workers are paid a living wage, deductions from wages for disciplinary measures is prohibited
- Working hours cannot be excessive
- Discrimination is prohibited
- Employment must be regular
- Harsh or inhumane treatment is prohibited
It Says GOTS but it’s Not
There is growing transparency when it comes to understanding how clothing is made. Sometimes online product descriptions for clothing or soft toys will state they are made with GOTS-certified organic cotton. Unfortunately, this does not always mean the final product is GOTS-certified.
Often the reality is that only some of the materials used to make that product are GOTS-certified, but making such a claim is not permitted per the GOTS Licensing and Labeling Guide. This is because GOTS certification is only granted if the entire production process from seed to consumer meets the standard.
Section 4.4. of the GOTS Licensing and Labeling Guide, “Referencing of Products Which are Not (Completely) Produced in Compliance with GOTS” states:
In order that there is no misrepresentation that a product is GOTS certified, the GOTS labelling conditions do not permit the use of the GOTS logo or any reference to GOTS (certification) on final textile products, if the GOTS certification is valid only for intermediate stages (such as yarn or fabric stage) or for specific components of the product only.
For example, take a teddy bear. A manufacturer may highlight that it is made of GOTS-certified organic cotton leading the consumer to believe the whole product is made of certified organic materials and free of toxic residues. Yet, unless the stuffed animal has a GOTS label, such statements mean that only some part of the stuffed animal is made of GOTS-certified materials. Most often this is the fabric on the outside. But was it then dyed with toxic dyes? What’s on the inside? Does it contain foam which can have flame retardants? Are there buttons or other appliques that can contain nickel, phthalates and or other unwanted chemicals?
In this case, a more accurate description would be that the shell fabric of the teddy bear ismade of organic cotton and stuffed with foam. However, you would not have information on whether the buttons had heavy metals, if the organic cotton was dyed with toxic dyes, if finishers were added to make the teddy bear stain-proof … all possibly leaving toxic residue on the teddy bear. The same goes for clothes that are considered organic baby clothes but are not GOTS-Certified.
How to be Sure It’s GOTS-Certified
Look for the label!
Final products consisting of 95-100% certified organic materials are Grade 1 and list the word ‘organic’ underneath the GOTS logo on the label.
Final products consisting of at least 70% certified organic materials are Grade 2 and list the words ‘made with [X]% organic materials’ underneath the GOTS logo on the label.
It Matters Because All Conventional Clothes are Made with Highly Toxic Chemicals (And Lots of Them)
It is unbelievable to think that children’s clothes can contain excessive levels of toxic chemical residues. But this is exactly what Greenpeace found when it tested infant and children’s clothing and shoes from The Gap, Disney, H&M, American Apparel, Adidas and other well-known brands. Their 2013 study found:
Nonyphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). Used to clean and dye during the clothing manufacturing process, NPEs mimic estrogen which can disrupt sexual development (so it’s an endocrine disruptor), most notably causing the feminization of fish.
Phthalates. Used in artificial leather, rubber, PVC and in some dyes, phthalates are endocrine disruptors (interfere with the proper functioning of hormones) and have been found to be reprotoxic in mammals, possibly affecting the proper development of the testes in early life.
Organotins. Often applied to socks, shoes and athletic clothing to stop any odor caused by sweat, organotins have been found to negatively affect the immune and reproductive system.
Per- and Poly- fluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Used to make clothes water or stain resistant, PFCs have been associated with cancer, thyroid diseases, reproductive toxicity and damage to the immune system.
To What Extent Do Infants And Children’s Bodies Absorb These Chemicals From Clothing?
“Children have a higher skin surface area to body weight ratio than adults, and experience more intensive contact with home surroundings, so increased dermal absorption of chemicals may occur. The skin of children is also more permeable than adult skin. In newborns, keratinisation (thickening and toughening of the skin) does not occur until 3–5 days after birth, and is more delayed in premature infants (Bearer, 1995). Studies have shown enhanced absorption of toxins including various dyes, drugs and disinfectants through the skin of newborns (Eichenfield & Hardaway, 1999).” (Chemical Legacy, Contamination of the Child, 2003)
Science is finding that very low doses of chemicals can be even more damaging than high doses in some cases. And timing really matters; besides the fetus, newborn children to age 3 are the most vulnerable because they are literally being built during this time. Though older children may be better able to detox chemicals that they absorb, it’s wise to remember the onslaught of chemicals that their bodies are exposed to everyday. These chemicals can bioaccumulate. Wherever you can, it’s best to reduce their exposure.
The Safe Baby Healthy Child Shop only carries GOTS-certified fabric products.