top of page
  • Writer's pictureRosie Burbidge

Diving into sustainability

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

Fashion is the fifth most polluting industry in the world. The pace of pollution has accelerated in recent years due to a faster and more responsive supply chain and the increased use of technical fabrics and new faster dye techniques which bring harsh environmental consequences.

The manufacturing process for many clothes can be very damaging, particularly the pollution of water courses from harsh dyes and bleaches. Not to mention the use of water in the first place - a scarce resource.

Sadly the number of wears that most clothes get is now less than ten and the clothes are often such poor quality and include so many artificial fibres that they cannot be reused or recycled.

This large environmental and societal footprint that this leaves is very troubling. Many in the fashion industry, such as Stella McCartney, have been highlighting the dangers posed by the approach of the fashion industry for a very long time but the trend is finally starting to catch on.

Fair trade materials

In addition to the working conditions, the origin of the raw textile materials and the processes used in manufacturer are all important in terms of meeting ethical standards. There are various organisations who are looking at ethical standards in fashion. The following are examples only to give a flavour of the many learning and licensing opportunities that are available.

The World Fair Trade Organization

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) represents over 350 organisations around the world which are committed to creating market access to Fair Trade goods through policy, advocacy, campaigning, marketing and monitoring. WFTO is focused on improving the situation of women, child labour, working conditions, the environment and the payment of a fair price. This is achieved by a combination of transparency and accountability for the supply chain. The WFTO provides a list of vetted members which may be useful when identifying potential partners around the world.

Fair trade Labeling Organisation

Fair trade labels for seed-cotton (i.e. raw cotton) were launched in France, Switzerland and the UK in 2005 following the introduction of standards in 2004. These labels certify that cotton producers have received a fair deal for their work. Although the standard only covers the cotton production phase, the label does require a social compliance assessment covering the processing and manufacturing of the ultimate garment. The Fair trade Labeling Organisation is developing a label which covers the whole garment production process from start to finish.

The Ethical Trading Initiative

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is a British alliance of businesses, NGOs and trade union organisations. ETI’s aim is to promote and improve the implementation of corporate codes of practice which cover supply chain working conditions. A number of large high street retailers in the fashion sector are members of the ETI. Compliance is achieved via self-assessment and monitoring.


The textile and clothing industry has around 100 different labels that address either environmental or social sustainability, or consumers’ health. Two of the most common European Eco-Labels are the Oko-Tex standard 100 mark, which focuses on health standards, and the European Eco-Label for Textile Products, which focuses on water pollution.


The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is German originated initiative which sets an international processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres. In order to become GOTS certified, your textile products must contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres and all chemicals used in the manufacturing process, including dyes, must meet set environmental and toxicological criteria. There are also set requirements over water usage. GOTS controls the types of businesses which can use its name and logo via its registered trade mark. It has also made a recent application to register the GOTS logo as a certification mark. Other labels which certify organic standards in clothing include the Soil Association and EKO.

To find out more contact Rosie Burbidge, Intellectual Property Partner at Gunnercooke LLP in London -


bottom of page