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The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable & Ethical Fashion Certifications

Blog, Eco-Fashion, Men's Fashion, Sustainability, Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable and ethical fashion is very important. But how do we know what we are getting is actually sourced this way? The intent to buy more sustainably-made clothing is the first step – ensuring it is in fact made this way is the next step. Trustworthy certifications can help us determine if a company is really committed to personal, environmental, and animal welfare, or if they are all talk and no action.

That is why we compiled a list of the most far-reaching, comprehensive, and actionable sustainable and ethical fashion certifications for clothing. These have been broken down into four categories: Environmental, Fair Labor, Holistic, and Membership Network Certifications. Each of these certifications are designed to encompass certain measurables and areas of focus.

Below you will find all of the organizations that we use at IndieGetup to ensure that the clothing we cover is made sustainably and with planet-animal-personal welfare in mind.

Environmental Certifications

One of the most pressing — and most important — areas of production that needs to be certified is the environmental impact. At a time when climate change concerns are growing and unsustainable materials, such as plastics, continue to increase, it is very important to address these issues.  The following certifications are focused primarily on environmental impact.

 

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

How it works: GOTS covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of select textiles. These textiles must meet a certain set of environmental standards ( and be made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibers). GOTS also factors in social criteria in accordance with the International Labor Organization.

What is certified: Clothing, bedding, towels, fibres, raw fabrics — most textiles. (Check out their public database for more information.)

Where it is: Internationally in collaboration with organizations across the world.

 

OEKO-TEX

How it works: OEKO-TEX offers several different certifications for different areas of clothing. The most common is Standard 100, which tests for substances like toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans. LEATHER STANDARD checks for toxic substances in leather, MADE IN GREEN looks for responsible and environmentally-friendly production processes, STeP checks supply chain friendliness, and DETOX TO ZERO measures the amount of water waste and sludge used in production.

What is certified: Raw materials, fabrics, and textiles as well as apparel, accessories, and home goods.
(Check out their certified products directory here.)

Where it is: Based in Switzerland but used all over the world.

 

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

How it works: BCI encourages more sustainable cotton sourcing through a defined set of standards. A BCU certification means the cotton sourced is at least 5% ‘Better Cotton’ (to begin, at least), with a plan to move to at least 50% ‘Better Cotton’ within five years.

What is certified: Cotton.

Where it is:  Also based in Switzerland (as well as the UK); certifications given globally.

 

bluesign

How it works:  bluesign certification is given to textile manufacturers who are producing in a way that is safe for both humans and the environment, taking into consideration wastewater treatment, dye toxicity, worker and consumer safety, sustainable sourcing, and more.

What is certified: Anything made from textiles.

Where it is:  Also based in Switzerland and certified worldwide. 

 

Cradle to Cradle (C2C)

How it works: Cradle to Cradle is different, in a good way. Their Certified Product Standard focuses on the circularity of products rather than just the sourcing. It looks at a product through five categories: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. A product receives an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) in each category and its overall product label is whichever category has the lowest level.

What is certified: A lot: apparel, home goods, toys, furniture, cleaning supplies, building materials, and more.
(Check out C2C’s product registry here.)

Where it is: Based in California and Amsterdam. Found internationally.

 

Leather Working Group (LWG)

How it works: LWG rates leather tanneries and leather traders based on how their production processes affect the environment, taking into consideration things like waste management, energy consumption, water usage, traceability, restricted substances, and more. They award a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating.

What is certified: Leather.

Where it is:  Based in the UK, certified internationally.

 

Organic Content Standard (OCS)

How it works: OCS provides a strict chain of custody system from the organic raw material source to the finished product.

What is certified: Any non-food product.

Where it is: Based in Texas, certifying all over the world.

 

USDA Organic

How it works: USDA Organic products are certified by the US government if they meet strict standards in their growing and harvesting process. They cannot be treated with any pesticides, synthetics, fertilizers, hormones, or other types of additives.

What is certified: Mainly food, but organic textiles such as cotton or wool can also be certified.

Where it is: The United States of America.

 

NSF International

How it works: NSF is a third-party certification that ensures human and environmental safety across several different industries.

What is certified: Water filters, commercial foodservice equipment, nutritional supplements, private label goods, personal care items, home appliances, clothing, and other essentials for human use.
(NSF’s directory of consumer resources can be found here.
)

Where it is:  Based in Michigan, found worldwide.

 

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

How it works: FSC uses three different labels to certify: FSC 100% (completely from FSC-certified well-managed forests), FSC Recycled (everything comes from recycled material), and FSC Mix (the product is from FSC-certified forests, recycled material, or controlled wood).

What is certified: Mainly forests, but also packaging and cellulosic fibers made from trees, such as rayon, viscose, and lyocell.
(FSC’s list of certified entities can be found here.)

Where it is: Based in Germany, with worldwide FSC-certification.

 

Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC)

How it works: ROC certifies animal welfare, fairness for farmers and workers, soil health, and land management. 

What is certified: Farms, food, beauty products, apparel, and other organic goods.

Where it is: US-based, currently only found in the United States.

 

Climate Beneficial

How it works: Climate Beneficial certifies wool that comes from animals that were raised in such a way that more carbon was sequestered than emitted.

What is certified: Wool, but this may expand to other materials in the future.

Where it is: US-based, currently only found in the United States.

Fair Labor Certifications

Although many of the following certifications do include an environmental piece to their requirements, they are primarily focused on fair and safe labor standards for workers.

 

Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)

How it works: WRAP is a social compliance certification that works with facilities primarily in apparel, footwear, and sewn goods . Factories are audited in categories such as forced labor, benefits, and discrimination. If they meet certain requirements, they can be given a platinum, gold, or silver certification. 

What is certified: Factories and other production facilities.

Where it is:  Based in Virginia, certifying facilities around the world.

 

Nest

How it works: Nest aims to make in-home manufacturing operations as transparent and ethical as the best factory settings. The Nest Standards and Seal stand apart for their dedication to cultural sensitivity and handworker ownership in decision-making.

What is certified: Artisan apparel products, accessories, furniture, and home goods.

Where it is: Based in New York, applied in over 90 countries.

 

Fairtrade International

How it works: Fairtrade International works with small farmers, producers, and traders around the globe who meet strict standards. Though the specifics of these standards vary by industry, they include factors like fair wages, safe working conditions, and supply chain transparency.

What is certified: Mostly food products and ingredients.

Where it is: Based in Germany. Found internationally.

 

FLOCERT

How it works: FLOCERT is a B2B certifying body that audits for Fair Trade International. They also have the EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) program and SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) Social Audits for supply chains.

What is certified: Mostly consumable products and ingredients.

Where it is:  Based in Germany, found internationally.

 

Fair Trade USA

How it works: Fair Trade USA uses many of the same labor standards as Fair Trade International, while also including certain environmental standards like the prohibition of GMOs and toxic chemicals. 

What is certified: Organic clothing components, food, beauty products, flowers, supplements, shoes, and home goods. 

Where it is:  Based in the USA, but this certification can be applied internationally (which is a bit confusing considering Fairtrade International exists).

 

Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA)

How it works: ECA is an accreditation body that works with textile, clothing, and footwear businesses to ensure their Australian supply chains are legally compliant. That means workers are being paid appropriately, receiving all their legal minimum entitlements, and working in safe conditions throughout the entire supply chain.

What is certified: Mainly textiles, apparel, and shoes.

Where it is: Based in Australia. Used in Australia.

Holistic Brand Certifications

The certifications below take a holistic approach to address the ethical and sustainable aspects of an entire company.

 

B Corp

How it works: B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance, from supply chain and input materials to employee benefit and more. Each company gets a B Impact score, indicating how much room there is for improvement.

What is certified: For-profit businesses (not individual products) in several different industries.
(Check out the B Corp Directory here.)

Where it is:  Based in the US, found internationally.

 

Eco-Age

How it works: Eco-Age is a consultancy that awards brands that meet the Eco-Age Principles for Sustainable Excellence. These principles include a wide range of areas, including fair work, community, diversity and inclusion, environmental management, leadership, animal welfare, and more.

What is certified: Fashion brands who show a commitment to ethical, social and environmental behavior.

Where it is:  Based in London, found internationally.

Membership Network Certifications

The following organizations are not true certifications (although you will see their labels on products), but rather a membership network. This distinction is important because most certifications require some sort of regular third-party verification in order to ensure strict accountability. These do not — though they are still valuable in their own way.

 

Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

How it works: ETI is a network, where member companies must adhere to ETI’s Base Code. This ensures that workers have freely chosen their employment, are being paid fairly, and are working in safe conditions. Companies are required to submit annual reports to prove compliance. Global companies, international trade union bodies, specialized labor rights organizations, and charities can become members.

Where it is: Internationally: You can see a list of ETI’s members here.

 

Canopy

How it works: Canopy is an international nonprofit organization that works with over 750 companies to protect ancient and endangered forests. Canopy works with brands that use materials from forests, like paper or fabrics, who are committed to working toward more sustainable solutions. 

Where it is: Based in Canada. Limited worldwide participation, though it is growing.

 

The Higg Index

How it works: The Higg Index delivers a holistic overview that empowers businesses to make meaningful improvements that protect the well-being of factory workers, local communities, and the environment. It offers a suite of tools to enable brands, retailers, and facilities of all sizes to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance.

Where it is: Based in California, membership available worldwide.

 

World Fair Trade Organization (WTFO)

How it works: WTFO provides accountability and development tools for organizations. It covers five major components: natural resources, women’s empowerment, refugee livelihoods, human rights and inequality, and sustainable farming. 

Where it is: Based in the Netherlands, membership across the world. 

 

Fair Trade Federation (FTF)

How it works: Fair Trade Federation is a network, with members adhering to strict ethical standards such as safe working conditions, living wages, and environmental stewardship. Like many networks, membership is based on self-reporting and is not audited by a third party.

Where it is: Based in the US and Canada, membership across the world. 

 

Fair Labor Association (FLA)

How it works: Companies register to become ‘FLA compliant’ and begin a lengthy implementation process (up to three years) during which they work to get their supply chains in line with the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct, which ensures safety and health for workers. At the end of the implementation period, FLA evaluates whether the company can be considered for accreditation.

Where it is: Based in Washington, DC, with an office in Switzerland and operations worldwide. 

 

Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)

How it works: The Fair Wear Foundation is a membership that’s focused specifically on labor standards in the garment industry. The non-profit organization works with garment brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs, and governments to improve working conditions for garment workers to audit and educate based on a set of standards that ensure worker welfare.

Where it is: Based in the Netherlands, working with 11 countries across Asia, Europe, and Africa. 

 

1% For the Planet

How it works: 1% For the Planet is a network of companies who are committed to giving back 1% of their gross sales to help the planet. 1% For the Planet helps to pair organizations with trusted nonprofits and certifies all donations to ensure compliance. 

Where it is: Worldwide.

 

Greenstory

How it works: Greenstory is an  impact marketing platform that aims to create greater green adoption by focusing on price, understanding of environmental impact, and the personal connection. The Green Story platform addresses these issues and shows consumers the impact of making greener choices, in a clear, relatable way.

Where it is: Based in Canada, used mainly in North America but gaining worldwide recognition.

About Author

Jordan Flagel

I specialize in environmental policy, tropical forest ecology, and sustainable development.

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