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Sustainable Fashion: Standards, Certifications, and Schemes

In this article, we introduce some of the leading social and environmental standards, certifications and other schemes relevant for the fashion industry.
spools of recycled nylon fibre from Econyl
© Mysource Ltd

In order to help manage sustainability in supply chains there are a many standards and certifications. Some of these focus on the environmental, some on the social, some on the products and some on the process.

A standard is set of specifications, criteria or guidelines dictating how something should be made or how processes should happen whilst a certification is a legal or contractual requirement. Therefore, a material or process might be certified against a particular standard or a number of different standards pertaining to social and environmental conditions.

There is a difference between standards, which can be and are certified against, and other schemes and initiatives which may have voluntary codes but do not certify or may have other ways of engaging with members to improve conditions.

Whilst the intention of certification is to guarantee that certain conditions have been met, joining other schemes and initiatives is a way to get support, help, learn from others and collaborate with others, for sustainability in supply chains. Many of the initiatives and schemes are were established as a response to poor practices in the chains of major global fashion businesses so may not always be relevant for small and start up fashion brands.

Here are some of the key certifications you are likely to come across in fashion supply chains. (And below you will find information on other schemes and initiatives.)

Key Certifications


The independent bluesign® standard is a certification for the textile industry focusing on legal compliance in relation to environmental health and safety. The certification standard combines aspects of consumer safety, water and air emissions and occupational health, with a particular focus on the reduction of harmful substance usage at early stages of production.


Launched by the Aid by Trade Foundation, Cotton Made in Africa is an initiative that promotes environmental protection and aims to combat poverty, by providing on-site training courses to smallholder farmers while improving crop yield.

Cradle to Cradle®

Cradle to Cradle® certification is a multi-attribute eco-label providing a means to demonstrate efforts in eco-intelligent product design. Company efforts across multiple focus areas; eco materials, re-cycling, renewable energy, water efficiency and social responsibility, are awarded either Basic, Silver, Gold, or Platinum level certification. This applies to materials, sub-assemblies and finished products.

Conflict-Free Diamonds
Ethical concerns over the mining of diamonds for sale to wealthy westerners being used to fuel wars, with the miners often working in slavelike environments led to the creation of the concept of conflict-free diamonds. Diamonds advertised as “conflict-free” may still not have been “ethically mined” miners could be children or be working in unsafe conditions.  Vagary around the classification of diamonds as conflict-free vs ethically mined doesn’t stop jewellers from making claims regarding their conflict-free diamonds.

EU Eco Label

The European Ecolabel is a voluntary scheme, established in 1992 to encourage businesses to market products and services that are kinder to the environment. Ecolabel criteria are based on an analysis of the impact of the product or service on the environment throughout its lifecycle.

Fairtrade Certified

The FAIRTRADE Mark is an independent consumer label which appears on products to signify that Fairtrade standards have been met. Standards relate to producers and workers and concern fairer terms of trade, better prices and longer lead times to promote security and economic self- sufficiency as well as sustainable production practices. Fairtrade cotton may also be used under a Fairtrade Sourcing Partnership which carries different on-product labelling to the familiar Mark. These standards are established by the Fair Labelling Organisation and are set in accordance to the requirements of the ISEAL Code of Good Practice in standards setting. In relation to textiles the Fairtrade Mark and Fairtrade Sourcing Program is currently only available to certify that the cotton is Fairtrade although a Textile standard has just been approved. and

Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold Certification (new)

Fairtrade International (FLO) and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) combined their expertise to create the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold certification. This groundbreaking initiative enables artisanal and small-scale miners to improve their livelihoods and it assures concerned consumers that the gold jewellery they buy is responsibly sourced. Through an extensive consultation process the two organisations have developed a set of standards for responsible mining, which the miners have to fulfil in order to get certified.

Global Recycle Standard

The Global Recycle Standard has been developed to meet demands, in the textile industry and beyond, for verification of the amount of recycled parts or ingredients in a given product. The GRS provides a track and trace certification system that ensures that the claims made about a product can be officially backed up.

GOTS certified

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was developed by leading standard organisations with the aim to unify the various existing standards in the field of eco textile processing and to define world-wide recognised requirements that ensure organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally responsible manufacturing up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer.

National/regional organic standards bodies harmonise using GOTS rather than their own textile standards – these include the Soil Association and other national organic bodies.


The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices. LEED certification verifies that a building project meets the highest green building and performance measures. All certified projects receive a LEED plaque, demonstrating that a building is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to live and work.

Made in Green

Made in Green is a label which certifies that the product, made in a fully traceable supply chain, has been manufactured in factories which respect the environment and the universal rights of workers.

Nordic Swan

The Nordic Swan mark demonstrates that a product is a good environmental choice. The “Swan” symbol is available for 65 product groups. The Swan checks that products fulfil certain criteria using methods such as samples from independent laboratories, certificates and control visits.


The International Oeko-Tex Association has been testing for harmful substances since 1992. It has two certification Labels; The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is a global uniform testing and certification system for textile raw materials, intermediate and end products at all stages of production. The Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 is a testing, auditing and certification system for environmentally friendly production sites throughout the textile processing chain.

SA8000 certified

A voluntary social standard certification grounded on the principles of core ILO conventions, UN Conventions, and an ISO-style management system, SA8000 is applicable to virtually all industrial sectors. Social Accountability International (SAI) is a global, multi-stakeholder, standards setting organization whose mission is to advance the human rights of workers around the world.

Sustainable Fair Trade Management System

Sustainable Fair Trade Management System is a recently launched label from the World Fair Trade Organisation. SFTMS is the new worldwide standard for the independent certification of organisations which demonstrate Fair Trade business practices. It provides a dynamic and integrated approach for the certification of production, trading and communication.

Textile Exchange

Previously known as Organic Exchange, Textile Exchange is a non-profit, member-based organisation dedicated to expanding the organic cotton market with a recent strategic shift to include other sustainable textiles. Working in the important areas of certification, organic farming engagement and public education, TE provides exclusive benefits to members who encompass the entire global textile supply chain.

Some Schemes & Initiatives


Established in 2002 by the FTA (Foreign Trade Association), the Business Social Compliance Initiative is a leading business-driven scheme for companies committed to improving working conditions in the global supply chain. BSCI membership can assist retail, brand, trading and importing companies in their progress toward social compliance goals.

Ethical Trading Initiative

The Ethical Trading Initiative is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations, working in partnership to improve the supply chains of consumer goods which retail in the UK. ETI has a base code developed from core ILO conventions. ETI membership requires a company to adopt the ETI Base Code in full, and commit to improving labour standards in their supply chains.

Fair Wear Foundation

Fair Wear Foundation is an independent verification initiative that works with garment companies to improve labour conditions in their supply chains. Membership requires agreeing to the FWF Code of Labour Practices.

Fair Labor Association

The Fair Labor Association is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to ending sweatshop conditions in factories worldwide. The FLA holds its participants accountable to the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct.

© Mysource Ltd
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