Some time ago a commenter on Facebook was surprised about the term ‘vegan’ on some of our products. If they were listed as 100% cotton, it would be pretty clear that they were vegan. Well that would be nice! And without knowing it, this person had stepped into a textile wasps’ nest.
I also find it silly to read the note ‘vegan’ on a bag of chips and often think that only an already obvious reference is being exploited for marketing purposes. Much like "the elegant white" of a washing machine was advertised in a well-known online shop for electrical goods.
But unfortunately, at least in the textile sector, this is not so easy to ignore, and worse, it is actually a big problem. And not only because people who live vegan could possibly buy a product with animal ingredients, but because it simply doesn’t have to be true, only if the care label says 100% cotton.
The EU Textile Labeling Regulation specifies how articles have to be labeled if they contain a specific fiber. It also states that a maximum of 2% of the total fiber weight of a product does not have to correspond to the actual specification. I.e. an article can be called 100% cotton, but only 98% of the total weight needs actually be made of cotton. Unsurprisingly, the question arises why this regulation is even necessary and so we come back to our FB comment: Hardly any item of clothing actually corresponds to the information on the label. There can be many reasons for this: On the one hand, textiles are manufactured in factories that mostly use all possible materials. A piece of clothing can be ‘contaminated’ already by the fiber passing by inside the building. In addition, there are many components that you wouldn’t immediately think of: sewing and embroidery threads are often made of polyester, prints and applications made of various materials, labels and tags are not even counted. In the case of a T-shirt, these ingredients are barely detectable and difficult to identify with a technical jacket.
GOTS has implemented this problem in its standard: companies may process both GOTS-certified and non-GOTS-certified materials, but they must strictly separate production lines, i.e. the combined work processes from all sewing work. Incidentally, a more precise labeling requirement has also been in effect since this year.
Normally we would label our boiled wool jackets like this:
Outer fabric: 100% wool
Lining: 100% cotton
In the meantime, however, this percentage must be based on the total weight. So there is for example:
83% wool, 17% cotton – depending on how much lining is used in the jacket.
Since it is relatively rare that garments contain fibers of animal origin even though otherwise stated, one wonders where the problem actually lies. It is unlikely that a label is made of leather or silk, so why should anyone care?
The answer lies further down the value chain: Mixing materials still means that they are difficult to recycle or not at all. Our cotton T-shirt would be chopped up and then thrown into a vat to dissolve the cellulose it contains and recover it. The other types of fiber would of course not be dissolved – in a best case scenario they would still swim up and only be skimmed off. Nevertheless, these residues would be waste that probably would be harder to be disposed. Our credo is therefore: to design products as ‘simple’ as possible in order to make the best possible use and recovery of the resources.
Of course, we also respect any lifestyle that rejects products of any animal origin and therefore want to assure our customers that no such materials are used for allegedly 100% cotton articles. Safety first!