Understanding Textile Certifications & Terminology When Buying Sustainable Fabric

Organic? Fair trade? Ethically sourced? Our buying power as consumers and our desire to be more ethical in our purchases has shifted the way things are done in almost every industry, from food to hand soap. Whether it’s from a human rights perspective, or chemicals on your body and in your home, everyone seems to be aware that a lot of the ways we manufactured, sourced, and delivered products in the past needs a radical rethink.

Most of us are here already because we are fed up with the fast fashion industry. We realize sewing our clothes produces a better-finished result and less waste (not to mention all the chain reactions that come with buying off the rack that we may not even be aware of). But where is the fabric coming from that we’re using to sew our clothes? And who is affected in the production of these textiles? Part of the reason Heather started Core Fabrics was to make it easy to understand how the fabric we’re using is being produced.

With that in mind, we thought we’d explain the terms and certifications you might encounter when shopping for sustainable textiles (or “Feel Good Factors”, as we refer to them internally), whether that’s at Core Fabrics or elsewhere. Hopefully, this demystifies confusing jargon and makes it easier for you to make informed decisions as a sewing consumer.

Deadstock

Deadstock fabric refers to the surplus materials from textile mills productions and garment factories. It may be “extra” for various reasons; maybe they ordered too much, it was dyed the wrong colour, or some other production hiccup occurred. Either way, it’s now leftover fabric without any plans for present or future use. Not only does this make it inherently one-of-a-kind, but it also means that it needs a new home. Buying deadstock ensures it doesn’t end up in a landfill – a nice bonus is you end up with high quality, oftentimes designer fabric, at a fraction of the price it would cost otherwise.

Natural Fibres

There are a variety of reasons to reach for natural fibres, whether they are cellulose (cotton, hemp + linen) or protein (silk + wool). First and foremost, they feel great against your skin. They breathe well, are fun to sew and press like a dream. In addition, they are inherently renewable since they are grown rather than produced from petrochemicals. While production of natural fibers varies widely in terms of sustainability (cotton in particular), as a general rule we try to opt for sourcing and supplying natural fibres whenever we can. Working with them ensures a durable, long-lasting garment that is easy to care for, and will eventually biodegrade rather than sit for a few hundred years in a landfill.

Recycled Textiles

While it may seem obvious, recycled fabrics are made from recycled fibres. This is becoming more and more common as we start to address the realities of unsustainable fabric production, particularly when it comes to petrochemical-based fibres like nylon and polyester that may have important technological benefits (durability, water resistance etc) but are created from non-renewable resources. It’s exciting to see new textiles created from ocean plastic, or recycled from existing textiles, and we’re only at the beginning of these tech breakthroughs. At Core Fabrics we’re currently carrying a line of 100% recycled denim. Made entirely from cotton waste leftover from the garment industry, it requires no chemicals or dyes and uses a fraction of the water of typical denim. We’re also carrying a line of cupro that is made from a base fiber of recycled cotton linter, a by-product of cotton production. In our sourcing, we are increasingly seeing recycled fibers come into play and are excited to see what this means for the future of sustainable fabric production!

Biodegradable

This category simply implies that when the end comes for these fabrics they will break down and return to the earth in a relatively short period of time. All natural fibers are biodegradable, but of course they may still release toxic chemicals depending on how they were dyed and treated during production. For this reason, we rely on textile certifications to have a solid understanding of the life cycle of the textile, from fibre to woven and dyed fabric.

The following are some of the eco-certifications we use to filter fabrics in our shop. There are many more out there, but these tend to be the most commonly used.

 

OEKO TEX Standard 100

If a textile article carries the STANDARD 100 label, you can be certain that every component of this article, (ie. every thread, button, accessory etc), has been tested for harmful substances and that the article is harmless for human health. The test is conducted by an independent OEKO-TEX® partner institute on the basis of the extensive OEKO-TEX® criteria catalog. In the test, they take into account numerous regulated and non-regulated substances, which may be harmful to human health. In many cases, the limit values for the STANDARD 100 go beyond national and international requirements. The criteria catalog is updated at least once a year and expanded with new scientific knowledge or statutory requirements. 

OEKO TEX STeP

STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. Certification is suitable for production facilities at all processing stages that want to communicate their environmental measures externally in a credible and transparent way.  Unlike other certification systems, STeP enables an integrated view of production conditions from a sustainable perspective.  OEKO-TEX® institutes carry out the analysis and scoring in 6 modules:

  • Chemicals management
  • Environmental performance
  • Environmental management
  • Social responsibility
  • Quality management
  • Health protection and safety at work

Fair For Life

Another aspect of production are the humans involved. Typically both the textile and garment industries are not the most progressive when it comes to workers rights and fair trade practices. The mission of Fair for Life is to provide a framework for “responsible supply chains”, which includes having a long-term vision, making sincere commitments and acting responsibly throughout the supply chain process by implementing good economic, social and environmental practices. Requirements are clear and applied to each actor in the supply chain, while respecting local contexts, cultures and traditions. In other words, a Fair for Life certification ensures the producers involved in making the textiles are not only getting a fair price for their goods, but that the conditions under which they produce those goods are of a high standard. 

With so many factors to take into consideration, we know it can feel a bit overwhelming! We wanted to create a shopping experience that took the pressure off of you to understand all these complicated systems, so we always try to be as clear and transparent about where our fabrics come from and who made them. We are also constantly evolving our sourcing processes and as more and more sustainable fabrics become available, we’ll be trying to provide the best possible options available. Beyond all those factors though, our priority is finding gorgeous, quality fabrics that are both special and fun to sew with because that is why we’re all here! So now, back to sewing…

 

Core Fabrics

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Hi! I'm Heather Lou, a pattern designer and sewing educator for the modern maker. At Closet Core Patterns, we transform your imagination into step-by-step implementation that helps you create a wardrobe you love - not one you're limited to buying off the rack.

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