Eating organic food makes sense if we don’t want to consume chemicals. And organic personal care products make sense, because we only want healthy ingredients soaking into our hair and skin.
But we often don’t consider the bed sheets we sleep on, the clothing we wear against our bodies, and the towels we rub against our skin after a hot shower, when our pores are open and receptive.
Most fabrics in stores today are dyed and manufactured with chemicals that we do not want against our skin. Simply put, buying clothing and linens that have been certified organic helps to reduce our exposure to these chemicals.
Consider both the fibers AND the final product
You should be aware that clothing or linens that say they are made with organic cotton, or hemp may still contain its fair share of petrochemicals and heavy metals.
This is because the natural fiber used to produce a fabric can be certified organic, while the finished product is not.
In other words, the label on a set of towels may indicate the product was “made with 100% certified organic cotton“. But that organic cotton may then be treated with petrochemicals and heavy metals while manufacturing the raw cotton into a finished towel.
The fibers that go into our clothing and linens should be grown responsibly. But we also need to make sure they are manufactured and dyed responsibly. That’s a lot to think about when it’s time to go shopping, but thankfully there are organizations who do that work for us.
GOTS, for example, is considered to have the highest standards for organic certification in clothing and textiles.
Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS)
Most organizations that certify textiles as organic will cover either the raw fiber or the finished product. Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) covers both.
GOTS also ensures the quality of the finished products. So while you may pay a premium for GOTS certified textiles up front, the products are intended to last longer and save you the cost of replacing them over time.
Safer fibers & textile standards
Under GOTS standards, the practices used to grow and produce natural fibers (mostly cotton, linen and hemp) must adhere to the traditional organic farming methods outlined by the USDA.
The finished textile product will contain at least 95% certified organic agricultural materials. The remaining 5% may be synthetic materials or non-organic natural fibers.
If the label says it is made with organic materials, then it has at least 70% certified organic agricultural materials. The remainder contains at least 20% non-organic natural fibers and at most 10% synthetic fibers. (Socks, leggings and sportswear are an exception and may contain only 5% natural fibers and up to 25% synthetic.)
Safer manufacturing standards
GOTS prohibits the use of heavy metals, formaldehyde, chlorine bleach and other toxic dyes. It also prohibits sandblasting of denim, which can damage worker’s lungs.
Manufacturers are prohibited from using Phthalates and PVC in packaging and when printing on textiles. And accessories such as snaps and buckles may not be made from nickel, chrome or PVC. In addition, all polyester must be post-consumer recycled.
Manufacturers must have processes in place to minimize waste and energy. They must also track the use and safe disposal of chemicals, water and environmental sludge.
Strong quality & social requirements
The GOTS quality requirements consider the shrinkage, rubbing, irritation, perspiration and color fastness of the finished product. The social criteria prohibit forced labor, child labor, excessive working hours, harsh or inhumane treatment and discrimination. And it requires safe and healthy working conditions and a fair living wage for workers. Pretty great, huh?
Good to know
GOTS and other organic certifications can be cost prohibitive for small designers, so just because you don’t see a certified organic or GOTS seal does not mean the higher standards have not been met.
Check the label for words like “Low-impact manufacturing”, “Low impact dyes”, “No chemical finishes or dyes”, “Plant-based dyes” or other indications that healthier alternatives were used in place of chemicals and petroleum-based materials.
When you buy from independent shops and designers you often have the opportunity ask questions directly about the fabrics, dyes and finishes — before the fibers are harvested and after they are manufactured.
You can also check the designer’s website to make sure their materials and practices meet your personal standards.