While we all need clothes to wear and furnishings in our homes and workplaces, textile products can have negative impacts on the environment and human health. So, what does it mean for a textile to be environmentally and socially preferable – as well as safer for your health?
Get to know the GECA standard
When a product is certified against GECA’s Textiles and Leather (TLv3.0-2014) standard, consumers can be sure that the product has been assessed to meet environmental, human health and ethical impact criteria. The standard considers impacts over the life cycle of textile products, including material sourcing, manufacture, packaging and use.
GECA certified textile manufacturers must show compliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions for no forced labour or exploitation, and manufacturers need to ensure their employees have safe working conditions, fair pay and equal opportunities. The standard also places limits, restrictions and bans on certain dyes. Products covered by the standard include soft furnishings, leather, cleaning cloths, clothing and accessories; and fibre, yarn and fabric intended for use in such textile products.
Sustainable Kakadu by Sustainable Living Fabrics
Sustainable Living Fabrics are leaders in environmental fabrics for upholstery and vertical surfaces. Their multi-award winning Green Living Collection has over 400 heavy duty fabrics made in Australia.
RIM Fabrics specialise in performance proven textiles that satisfy the needs of architects and specifiers for applications such as screens, panels, workstations, notice boards and upholstery applications.
Things to be mindful of when looking at textiles
Textile products can have negative impacts on the environment and human health that can occur across the product’s life cycle. They may include:
– the use of biocides in agricultural practices;
– substances used in manufacturing which can harm waterways;
– hazardous materials which cause skin irritation during wear; or
– poor working conditions for textile manufacturers.
Pesticides are often applied to crops such as cotton – or even used on sheep for their wool. The run off from pesticides can contaminate local water supplies, harm workers, and is of concern if applied to live sheep. Environmentally preferable textiles contain only a strictly limited amount of pesticide residues in the raw materials.
Any wood fibres or wood-sourced materials must be harvested sustainably. Wood fibres are processed and used to create man-made cellulose fibres such as viscose. Illegal harvesting practices can threaten ecosystem health and local communities, so all wood and fibre must not come from uncertified sources.
Did you know that formaldehyde and heavy metals such as arsenic can be present in your clothes? These can present a health risk to humans, especially to infants and children. Hazardous materials are restricted or, in some cases (such as where a substance is a known carcinogen) may be banned outright.
Some dyes (such as azo dyes) and dye byproducts have been classified as skin sensitisers, carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxins. While some dyes may not be linked to cancer themselves, they can break down into more harmful byproducts during use.
Issues such as emissions to air and water, as well as biodegradability, are also of concern. Pollutants and toxins such as nitrous oxide, zinc, copper, chlorine compounds, sulphur, acrylonitrile and other substances can pose a risk to air and water quality, so there are careful restrictions placed on these.
Textiles should be ethically made, too. With the increased awareness surrounding the poor working conditions of many textile workers, more people are demanding to know where their textiles originated. This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza complex collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where 1138 garment workers were killed and another 2500 were injured. That’s when the global Fashion Revolution movement was born.
During the upcoming Fashion Revolution Week (April 23 – 29), we encourage you to use your voice as a consumer to ask brands #whomademyclothes?