So many terms in the world of sustainability aren’t defined. Things may be green or natural, but slime is green and a lot of gnarly things are natural. So as part of my (albeit slow) learning and sharing of terms and certifications, I want to answer “What is OEKO-TEX?,” so you’ll recognize it and know what it means.
Last week I bought some new kitchen towels (after a terribly long, unsatisfying search). They’re from Target and while I’m sad they aren’t from a small brand, a B Corp product, or made of organic cotton, they are exactly what we’re looking for and, I was happy to note, they’re STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified.
The best part is that I see OEKO-TEX® all over the place, including, yes, all over Target!
Scroll down past the certifications and explanations to see just how widespread OEKO-TEX® products are. It’s one of the easier ones to find!
What is OEKO-TEX®?
Founded in 1992, the OEKO-TEX® Association tests textile and leather products for harmful substances. You might wonder how a kitchen towel could be harmful, but the scary thing is that we (you and I) don’t know. There is SO MUCH that goes into the production and transportation of every product – anything could have been used in a product or come into contact with the product along the way.
The great thing about OEKO-TEX® is that they test every component. So on a zip up jacket, for example, yes it’s the actual materials in the jacket, but also the zipper, collar, strings, and any decor (down to the plastic wrapping on the end of the strings). Oftentimes material claims are only for part of a garment, so it’s an exhaustive look.
In the same way that “fragrance” is used in a lot of beauty products – the actual ingredients aren’t disclosed. While they may not adversely affect everyone, there are a lot of people who could be affected.
Of course, having items free of harmful substances for babies and children is one of the biggest concerns for consumers (see my go to sustainable kids clothing brands and sustainable kid shoe brands).
And then if you think about your bed sheets (check out these chic sustainable bedding brands), you and your skin just lay between those items for hours on end everyday, so why not make sure they’re free of any harmful substances just rubbing onto your beautiful, precious skin!
The OEKO-TEX® Association has 70 laboratories in Europe and Asia testing products and conducting research on textiles and substances, so they’re constantly expanding, testing, and learning.
What are the different OEKO TEX® Certifications?
Over the last 30 years, OEKO TEX® has expanded from its first certification of Standard 100 to have 6 different standards. Here is a breakdown:
What is OEKO-TEX® Standard 100?
This is the original criteria (though consistently updated) for the organization. An item with this certification has been deemed to be free of harmful substances, including each of its components.
All other certifications also include the passing of the Standard 100 expectations.
What is STeP by OEKO TEX®?
STeP stands for Sustainable Textile & Leather Production and is a certification for manufacturers. STeP is a comprehensive analysis of production conditions in six categories (chemical management, environmental performance, environmental management, social responsibility, quality management, and health protection and safety at work).
This certification looks not only at the individual parts of a completed items in regard to harmful substances, but it looks at the potential harm to people and the planet throughout the ENTIRE PROUCTION chain.
From the website: “Textile manufacturers from all processing levels can be certified, from fibre manufacture to spinning and weaving/knitting to finishing and making up. In the leather industry, all processes such as tanning, retanning, dying, fatliquoring, finishing and making up can be certified. Logistics centres and manufacturers of accessories, foams and mattresses can also apply for STeP certification.”
What is OEKO-TEX® MADE IN GREEN?
The OEKO-TEX® MADE IN GREEN certification launched in 2015 as a traceable product label for all types of textiles and leather products. Most items we buy are made up of components, each manufactured at different places (sometimes on various continents).
This OEKO-TEX® MADE IN GREEN certification traces that an item (and its components) have been “manufactured in environmentally friendly facilities under safe and socially responsible working conditions.”
Examples include risk management during dying and painting, banning the use of certain hazardous chemicals, responsible handling of wastewater and emissions, use of renewable energies, and waste management (e.g., recycling of waste).
As far as labor conditions, the OEKO-TEX® MADE IN GREEN also ensure fair working conditions, bans forced labor and child labor, and ensures occupational safety and health protection.
What is ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX®?
In 2016, OEKO-TEX® launched ECO PASSPORT as a certification for the chemicals, colorants, and related substances used in manufacturing textiles and leather materials – so this isn’t a certification of finished products.
Included in this level of certification is an assessment of working conditions and environmental management. Brands creating products can then use these ECO PASSPORT certifications to ensure they’re making a product free of harmful substances.
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What is LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX®?
And then again just one year later, the LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX® appeared. Leather can be a very wasteful material to use – from the animals to the waste (harmful dyes and A LOT of wastewater).
The LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX® is similar to the Standard 100 in that it tests leather (materials and finished products) for any harmful substances. While it recommends conscious sourcing of leather, it isn’t part of the regulation or necessary to receive the certification.
Also check out LWG certified leather for sustainable leather.
What is OEKO-TEX® RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS?
And the latest OEKO-TEX® certification is RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS which was created for businesses in the textile and leather industries to regulate and be aware of their own activities, including their supply chains and the overall running of their business. This certification is similar to idea to B Corporations.
OEKO-TEX® RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS uses seven elements to evaluate companies: business policy, risk analysis, integration of appropriate actions, continuous monitoring, transparent communication, complaint mechanism, and environmental/climate.
Included in this group are brands and retailers. THis certification just launched at the end of 2022, so I can’t find certified examples yet (I’m guessing they haven’t released any yet).
How do you Know if something is OEKO-TEX® certified?
This is something to boast, so companies should be stating it clearly on every product page or label. The physical labels also offer a code and/or QR code for you to verify the claim if you so wish.
Where to Find OEKO-TEX® products
Just to show you how prevalent OEKO-TEX® is, check out these blog posts, each mentioning products deemed free of harmful substances.
OEKO-TEX® at Target
Target has sourced a number of home goods and baby items that are certified. There are even some women’s clothing items in there! These bath towels are even MADE IN GREEN certified!
OEKO-TEX® at Sezane
Not all Sézane products are OEKO-TEX® certified but many are and it’s easy to see the logo on each item (just hover for certification number).
OEKO-TEX® Home Goods
OEKO-TEX® brands at wearwell
As a small company, wearwell (my FAVORITE website for sustainable fashion shopping) sources items from the following brands that prioritize OEKO-TEX® materials in product creation (things like upcycled and recycled fibers can’t be traced in the same way).
You’ll also want to check out this list of second hand clothing from brands you love, my tips for creating (and maintaining) a minimalist wardrobe, why you should always buy quality clothes (because then you’ll always have something to wear), and these stylish and sustainable shoe companies!