The Murky Meanings Behind Your Clothing Labels

Ollie Cox
4 min readNov 6, 2020

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by Ollie Cox

Like most of us, I find the labels in my clothes annoying and inconvenient, but what if I told you they could keep your clothes looking better for longer whilst helping you do your bit to save the planet? Labels can tell us a lot about how to care for your clothes, the types of fibres used and therefore its impact on the environment and its supposed country of origin. However, these labels are not without flaws as this article will demonstrate.

Composition

The composition tag tells us what fibres are present in the fabric, such as cotton or polyester. It will usually inform you how much of the item is made of that material, for example, 100% cotton. As an avid wearer of the nylon pant, this next fact was hard to swallow. If your label contains nylon or polyester, it is a by-product of petroleum extraction, hazardous to the environment and will not biodegrade. These products are detrimental to the health of the planet and contribute to ‘wildlife disruption and biodiversity loss’ (Independent 2019). The law around labelling the potentially harmful components in your clothes is as murky as the oil spills they contribute to. This can be seen in The Textile Products (Labelling and Fibre Composition) Regulations of 2012 where Article 11 of the EU Regulation is cited, stating that ‘Textile products containing two or more components do not need to be labelled … if the components are not main linings or if the components represent less than 30% of the total weight of a textile product’. As you can see, the toxic fibres in your clothes may be excluded from the label. This could result in unconscious polluting despite your best efforts and choices. One of the best ways to avoid this is to buy from brands that you know are sustainable, ideally, with a smaller supply chain or, of course, you can buy pre-owned items.

Care

The care label simply details the ‘safest way’ to wash dry and iron an item according to the manufacturer and should not be taken as law. It is simply a way for the company to avoid a barrage of complaints such as your trousers turning into shorts after a wash. The care label is one of the less contentious issues raised when looking into tags. However, it is an important part of keeping your clothes fresh for longer and helping you make more sustainable choices.

Where The Item is Made

Another unclear aspect of our clothes’ labels is where they are made. The reality of modern textile manufacturing, particularly in global brands is that the supply chain is long and often international, meaning that it is produced across different countries. Despite this, manufacturers play on the ingrained ideas of ‘quality’ associated with certain locations in the mind of the consumer. An example of this would be the idea that because something is labelled as Italian-made it will be of the highest quality. In the EU, the country of origin of a garment does not need to be displayed. Consequently, many brands do not communicate the full manufacturing journey. The ‘substantial transformations’ of garment making, such as weaving, cutting and assembly, can occur in different countries. However, if these processes, ‘come together in Italy’ (Marketplace.org), the item can be labelled as originating in that country, consequently meaning that the product has in fact been assembled or part assembled in Italy and is not a solely Italian product.

As consumers, we should bear in mind that the country of origin on a label does not indicate the quality of the garment.

What is the solution?

The best way to avoid some of the problems caused by the unclear regulation on clothing labels is to buy from sustainable brands if possible, often those with singular labels printed in the garment, indicating a small supply chain. Or for a cheaper and more accessible alternative, buy a pre-owned piece from fabrics that you know to be sustainable, for example, organic cotton.

Platforms such as Renoon make navigating the sustainable shopping minefield easier by doing the hard work for you.

(https://www.instagram.com/renoon.official/)

#ReAmbassdor

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