Is fast fashion harming our health as well as the planet? A guide to the OEKO-TEX standard and what it means for our health

Is fast fashion harming our health as well as the planet? A guide to the OEKO-TEX standard and what it means for our health

It is estimated that the fashion industry will account for 25% of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 and not surprisingly the environmental impact of this economic giant of an industry is under intense scrutiny in the media. We can all understand how the fast and furious nature of fashion is harmful to the planet but what if the clothes consumed in ever increasing quantities also posed a risk to our health?

The OEKO-TEX Standard 100, introduced over 25 years ago addresses this very issue by testing for 100 harmful substances in textiles, any one of which could compromise the safety of the clothing, bedding or upholstery item for unaware consumers.  And when we say harmful, the 100 listed substances include carcinogenic dyes in bedding or clothing items which we wear next to our skins.

In this blog we interviewed Paul, owner of Fabrics Galore on why he thinks the OEKO-TEX standard is so important in textile manufacturing and why Fabrics Galore increasingly looks to suppliers whose fabrics meet this standard.

What is the OEKO-TEX standard?

The Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX was developed as an independent certification scheme for manufactured items in domestic and household use including clothes, bedding, towels and soft toys among others. OEKO-TEX 100 tests for 100 harmful substances looking at every element of a garment and can certify yarns, fabrics, sewing threads, linings as well as buttons and zips. The testing and certification process extends far beyond existing legal requirements, testing not only for substances already banned, but also for chemicals known to be unsafe, but not yet controlled by legislation.

Learn more about OEKO-TEX standard

OEKO-TEX tests most stringent for baby and toddler items

OEK0-TEX 100 testing is geared towards product use and distinguishes between 4 different classes of product depending on proximity to the skin. Unsurprisingly the strictest tests are applied to products and garments designed for babies and toddlers.

The four different classes are as follows:

  • Product class I: textile articles for babies and toddlers up to 3 years old (clothing, toys, bedding, towels etc.)
  • Product class II: textiles used close to the skin (underwear, bedding, T-shirts etc.)
  • Product class III: textiles used away from the skin (jackets, coats etc.)
  • Product class IV: furnishing materials (curtains, tablecloths, upholstery etc.)

Why is OEKO-TEX 100 important to Fabrics Galore?

Although the standard is widely adopted in Europe, certification in the UK has been a lot slower and there is a general lack of awareness. Although established in 1992, fabric labels have only recently started to appear. Sometimes we see it on our fabric rolls, but not very often. We would definitely like to raise awareness as we believe it is important and Fabrics Galore have plans to clearly label our online fabrics where they meet the standard. We would also reassure our customers that we are searching out OEKO-TEX certified fabric suppliers wherever possible, just as we also seek out companies who are ethical in all aspects of their production processes. In all low-cost textile manufacturing countries like China there are good factories and bad factories. But the important thing is having that ongoing dialogue with your suppliers.

Does the OEKO-TEX certification mean the material is also organic?

No, it doesn’t as the organic certification of fabrics like cotton relates to how the raw material (cotton) is grown and focuses on controlling the use of harmful pesticides.  OEKO-TEX focuses on how the fabric is produced from the raw materials. There is far greater awareness of organic cotton and there is certainly demand for it at Fabrics Galore. However, organic cotton fabric comes at a huge premium compared with the price differential of organic v non-organic food– it is more than double the cost of normal cotton. In addition, the amount of water it takes to process cotton slightly undermines its biodegradable credentials. Don’t assume that buying organic cotton is the safe and environmentally responsible choice!

How would Fabrics Galore advise their customers on safe fabric choices?

We would like to reassure our customers at Fabrics Galore that to the best of our knowledge, the fabrics we source have been produced responsibly. By actively seeking out OEKO-TEX certified suppliers of fabrics such as our range of small stripe jersey, we are prioritising fabrics which have been produced with minimal harm to the environment during the production process. These fabrics are also less likely to have been produced with the harmful substances targeted by OEKO-TEX 100.

One of the most popular OEKO-TEX certified fabric ranges that we have available at Fabrics Galore is our small stripe jersey collection.


Is Fabrics Galore OEKO-TEX certified?

No, because only fabric manufacturing companies apply for certification, not the fabric retailers like us. We are dependent on suppliers and manufacturers meeting this standard. We can certainly promote those fabrics with the OEKO-TEX 100 label, but the supplier’s factory will be the one certified. 

How do I know if a fabric I purchase meets the OEKO-TEX standard?

 We ask our suppliers to label their fabrics if they meet the standard so that we can publish the certification on our website and in the shop. We are establishing a routine whereby we ask suppliers to provide a certification sticker for the fabric roll which we can also promote on our online shop fabric descriptions. Fabrics Galore is fully committed to an ethical, environmentally safe journey for our fabrics– and where we have 100% guarantee that a fabric meets OEKO-TEX we will communicate that information to our customers.

How can fashion and fabric work towards sustainability in the future?

As with most movements, it is about education – teaching our children the impact of throwaway fashion. Fashion is deemed one of the world’s most polluting industries – from toxic chemical use to water pollution and waste. Some 35 per cent of the global total of microfibres in the oceans comes from clothing and textiles. 50% of the world’s clothing is disposed of within a year but we do know that people tend to keep the clothes they have made themselves for longer.  When the high street chains like Primark and New Look made fashion available at such a low cost, many fabrics shops closed. The UK lost half of its fabric shops but they are coming back again due to the rise in popularity of homemade crafts. There is increasingly a better balance. The fabric shops which have managed to survive the fast and furious fashion revolution are the best. If you’re going to put the time into making a garment you certainly don’t want it to fall apart after a couple of washes and only wear it once.

Fabrics Galore in partnership with our suppliers and customers

At Fabrics Galore we always try to source the best examples of a particular fabric at a reasonable price, for example the best corduroy at a price our customers can afford. We also look for fabrics which are difficult to source elsewhere to offer our buyers something unique which helps longevity of a garment.

We often buy clearance end of lines avoiding the less popular fabrics ending up in incineration or in landfill. We welcome the news that a huge British brand like Burberry has announced it will no longer incinerate unsaleable stock. When other big brands join the movement, it will benefit us all.

Learn more about the OEKO-TEX standard and Fabrics Galore

For more information about the OEKO-TEX standard, Paul Johnston is the 3rd generation of fabric shop retailers in his family and is the owner of the Fabrics Galore shop in Battersea which he opened over 25 years ago.

He is passionate about finding high quality fabrics which meet OEKO-TEX 100 to stock in the shop and online. If you would like to contact a fabrics expert, please call Fabrics Galore on 0207 738 9589.

Or if you would like to explore the huge range of fabrics that we have available here at Fabrics Galore, be sure to head over to our online store!

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One stop fabric shop

Welcome to the Fabrics Galore London online store, packed full of beautiful fabrics to inspire your next dressmaking, patchwork quilting, craft or home furnishing sewing project. We stock a huge range of different materials alongside designer fabrics from Liberty, Cath Kidston, Orla Kiely, Laura Ashley, William Morris and Alexander Henry. We source the highest quality fabrics, so whether it be a cotton, linen, viscose, chambray, jersey or wool, we have you covered.Check out our dressmaking fabric for something with drape, fabulous Liberty cotton lawn prints, quilting fabrics for patchwork inspiration or the home furnishing section to pimp your pad. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get sewing!

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