1992. It was International Space Year but European consumers were much more concerned about their personal space. That year, they learned that their apparel and home textiles could very well contain hazardous chemicals such as pesticides, carcinogenic dyestuffs, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and other known health hazards.
Consumers were enraged and demanded that the industry address the issue. In response, the German Hohenstein Institute and the Austrian OETI (formerly the Austrian Textile Research Institute) joined forces to establish the independent OEKO-TEX® Association. Their scientific collaboration resulted in the creation of the well-known STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, a voluntary testing and certification program that ensured textile products were evaluated for more than 100 hazardous chemicals that could have been introduced during the textile production process.
Soon, STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification was required by brands and retailers throughout Europe to give consumers confidence that their textiles were safe to use. Today, OEKO-TEX® member institutes number sixteen and more than 160,000 STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certificates have been issued—with more than 14,000 issued per year—and 10,000 manufacturers, brands, and retailers in almost 100 countries are working with OEKO-TEX®.
There's a reasonable explanation for the worldwide growth of the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®. Today's complex and ever-shifting global textile supply chain can be difficult to navigate. Governmental regulations can differ by country, the list of concerning chemicals grows every day, and textile manufacturing practices continue to change. These factors combine to create uncertainty and risk for manufacturers, sourcers, brands, and retailers who buy from or sell to the global marketplace. Compound that by the incredible speed with which news—especially bad news that can harm corporate reputations and brand equity— travels through the worldwide social media grapevine, and it's easy to see that managing that risk should be at the top of any responsible company's priority list. STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® helps eliminate unknowns, hold vendors accountable to up-to-date, verifiable quality standards, and provide objectivity and transparency that can help avoid unpleasant surprises.
The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification not only gives confidence to consumers but the program also gives confidence to the thousands of companies throughout the global textile supply chain. In fact, OEKO-TEX® restricted substance limit values and testing criteria often go beyond government requirements. The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification reassures companies that their products comply with or exceed the strictest product safety regulations and most current human health recommendations. The STANDARD 100 also considers major sustainability initiatives undertaken by the industry.
The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is a global standard that is consistent from country to country meaning that certified products made in one location will meet certification standards in another. For companies with multi-country bills of material or companies that want sourcing flexibility, that consistency is very reassuring and cost effective. Implementing a single, globally recognized certification program like STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® makes compliance and quality assurance programs easier to manage for busy company personnel.
Another interesting aspect of the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® program is that it is modular. Companies that buy STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® components can take credit for their vendors' certifications during their own certification process. For example, let's say a manufacturer wants to certify a dress shirt. The buttons, collar stays, thread, and fabric are all STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified by the suppliers of those products. That makes the certification process for the finished garment very straightforward and cost efficient for the shirt manufacturer.
The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is truly consumer centric. The limit values for some harmful chemicals may differ based on who will use the textile product and how it will be used. Because the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® reflects the medical community's latest scientific knowledge, limit values for products intended for babies and toddlers may be much stricter than for products intended for others. For products that come into close contact with people, limit values may be tighter than for textile products that people rarely touch. The Class system within the STANDARD by OEKO-TEX® certification helps communicate these differences to consumers. Class 1 is the most stringent certification class for young children's products. Class 2 is the largest category for apparel and textiles that come close or next to the skin. Classes 3 and 4 are for products with less human contact.
Another confidence building aspect of the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® program is that limit values and test criteria are reviewed at least annually. New developments in medical science, governmental and industry product safety regulations, or textile chemistry are assessed and the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is adjusted if necessary. Certificate holders receive advance notice to comply with any new requirements and know to expect news on the updates each January. Through this review, the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® has expanded from testing for 100 harmful chemicals to testing for more than 300. Again, in response to consumer demand, the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® has added criteria that limit chemicals that are harmful to the environment. This action enables OEKO-TEX® to reduce further the use of hazardous chemicals throughout the textile supply chain and more comprehensively support companies' sustainability efforts.
The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is as relevant today as it was in 1992. The global public awareness of harmful chemicals is steadily rising and consumers are demanding products that are safer for both people and planet. In addition, they want to buy from companies that share these values and demonstrate consideration and responsibility for their consumers, their employees, the community, and the environment.
For over twenty-five years, OEKO-TEX® has worked to eliminate hazardous chemicals, increase sustainability, and help companies operate in a transparent and compliant manner. The OEKO-TEX® portfolio of testing and certification products will continue to grow as the textile supply chain expands and new sustainability challenges emerge.
More information about the OEKO-TEX® portfolio of independent testing and certification services and a directory of certified manufacturers and products are available at www.oeko-tex.com.