Row of blue and gray sport coats on clothes hangers

Most of us don’t think much about how or where our clothes were produced.

We’re more likely to take a fancy to the style of the cut or the hue of the cloth. Or perhaps we’re after a bargain and relish the least expensive adornment to garnish our bodies.

If you care to pull back the curtain, the production of textiles is actually a dirty rotten business.

Buying organic simply isn’t enough it turns out. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) takes organic one-cut-above by guaranteeing the manufacturing process is as clean as the organically-grown raw material.

Let’s not skirt around the issue, the manufacturing of textiles is deemed one of the worst offenders in terms of pollution. Over 2,000 chemicals are used in the process from dyes and bleaches to flame retardants and formaldehyde. These are all washed in ever-precious water during every step of the process.

Traditional textile production often results in the discharge of toxic chemicals into the air and water, as well as creating hazardous workplace situations.

These often-carcinogenic chemicals literally ride on the coattails of the clothes we wear. They evaporate into the air and are absorbed through our skin.

Even if the cotton or wool has been produced organically, if it’s traditionally processed, you’re still getting a fair dose of toxic exposure and messing up the environment.

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Enter the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), recognized as the world’s leading processing standard for textiles (clothing, home textiles, and personal care products) made from certified organically-produced raw materials. It includes strict environmental and social criteria for operations along the entire textile supply chain.

We all “live downstream” and share the same water and air, and workers making products for us deserve our respect. GOTS prohibits the use of the kinds of chemicals commonly used in textile processing that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious illnesses.

Chemicals, like persistent hormone-disrupting substances, also destroy eco-systems and biodiversity on an international scale. GOTS requires that all dyes and auxiliaries are assessed to its strict criteria and approved prior to their usage.

In an interview, Lori Wyman, the GOTS representative in North America, explained, “Say you have a box of cereal in front of you that’s certified NOP organic. That tells you that the grains inside of it are grown and processed by organic standards. You also know that the people who harvested and processed it were not exposed to pesticides and fumigants or other toxins from conventional agriculture.

So, by purchasing that organic cereal, you know what you’re putting in your body, and you’re supporting organic agriculture and all the people involved.

In the textiles world for a long time there was no standard for organic fiber processing, so that’s where GOTS comes in.” 

If you want to thread it all together, GOTS is a voluntary standard and isn’t regulated by a governmental body. Instead, it’s managed by a nonprofit organization. It is supported by the U.S. government which requires that organic textile products in the U.S. are certified to the organic food standard or GOTS. You can read more here.

When discussing the role of GOTS, Lori said, “we don’t actually do certifications or even inspections; we’re a standard bearer. We work with certification bodies that are trained and authorized by GOTS to conduct inspections based on our standard. In the past, I worked as an inspector using a number of different standards and GOTS has always been my favorite, so I’m thrilled to be responsible for promoting a standard that I’m so confident in and proud of.”

Learn more about the benefits of GOTS here.

To be sure a product is really GOTS-certified, look for the GOTS label grade (“organic” or “made with organic”), the reference to the independent certification body, and the license number of the certification agency.

Consumers can trace the certified company in the GOTS public database. Enter the license number (or company name) provided on the GOTS label into the “free text field” on the search page.

Look for the label—don’t accept self-claims. Organic alone doesn’t make the cut in clothing!

Even Greenpeace International measures up and mandates that all cotton-based textiles including t-shirts, shirts, sweatshirts, trousers, and bags used by volunteers, activists, or staff must be certified to GOTS.

GOTS should be in your organic jeans as Lori told me, “If you’re buying a pair of traditional jeans with a fancy wash, it probably took a lot of chemicals to make them look that way. If you really thought about what happened to the environment and all the residual chemicals on those jeans, you probably wouldn’t want to buy them.”

Don’t hem and haw any longer.

If you buy clothing, choose GOTS-certified products when making your purchases. If you can’t find GOTS products at your favorite stores, ask the manager to carry them, or contact your favorite brands or retailers directly to ask them to “GO GOTS!”

If you’re an industry buyer of organic textile products, be sure to ask for a copy of supplier’s GOTS scope certificate. This is proof of their company’s own certification, just as with organic food. Also check for the company and its validity on the GOTS Public Database at www.global-standard.org.

The pollution in textile manufacturing has spun out of control, and GOTS is here to change that toxic thread.

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About The Author

Melody Meyer's picture

Melody is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). In this role she is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical organic issues. Her Blog www.organicmattersblog.com covers a range of organic and sustainable food issues.

She is the executive director of the UNFI Foundation which is dedicated to funding non-profit organizations that promote organic agriculture  www.unfifoundation.org. Melody serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association www.ota.com.

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