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Standards Required to Export Textile Products
Standards and quality have been part of human society since ancient times and they increasingly shape commercial prospects for developing and transition economies. Standards have been applied to products as well as services and the textiles products have not been left out as consumers continue to demand ever higher levels of safety, performance, reliability and sustainability.

In the textiles sector there is a broad span of textile producing and manufacturing activities that are carried out by both small and large enterprises however there are those that can easily be conducted by SMEs and those that need a large amount of finance and technology. For natural fibers the activities include:
  1. Growing and harvesting;
  2. Ginning or other preparation of the fibers to make them suitable for use in spinning;
  3. Spinning of the fibers into yarns;
  4. Weaving of the yarns into fabric;
  5. Manufacture of final product (e.g. blouse, tablecloth); and
  6. Labeling and packaging.
The activities covering synthetic (man-made) fibers are similar, except for the fact that the fibers do not come from plants that have to be grown and harvested. Many textile products are combinations of natural and man-made fibers.
The early stages of fiber production, spinning, weaving and dyeing (i.e. the textiles) are capital intensive; hence they are usually confined to large-scale operations and big organizations. They are also subject to more mandatory technical requirements than the later stages. The final products, e.g. clothing, table cloths, napkins, cushions, on the other hand are labour intensive, and although large manufacturers are quite common, there are an immense number of SME-type operations in many countries manufacturing clothing and other products made from textiles.

At each stage of the production process, the outputs may have to comply with technical requirements and have to be tested and certified. Many public and private textile and clothing standards have evolved over the years, but only a few, mostly related to textiles, have been declared mandatory. Hence, market forces determine to a large extent which standards must be applied by manufacturers of clothing and other products made from textiles.

International and other technical requirements

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed and published hundreds of international standards on textiles. These include the four main ISO committees namely; TC 38 Textiles, TC 94/SC 13 Protective clothing, TC 219 Floor coverings and TC 221 Geosynthetics. Inspite of the existence of these international standards, few if any have been adopted by all countries. Other than these international standards there are many national and regional standards as well as national and private standards bodies which also publish extensive collections of standards for textiles and textile products. For example some of the mandatory technical requirements for textiles and clothing in the European Union disallows the use of certain products in the manufacture of textiles and clothing such as azo dyes, organotin compounds, dimethyl fumarate substances and the like.  In the United States, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has been given the mandate to implement safety requirements for marketed textile products, e.g. fire resistance and the banning of certain types of children’s upper body garments that incorporate drawstrings as these are considered a 'substantial product hazard’. It is therefore extremely important for suppliers to obtain correct information about standards or technical regulations for the target market.

Purchaser requirements

Clothing and other goods manufactured from textiles is big business, and the large retail organizations and specialized trading companies will have their own ideas regarding standards for these goods. These may relate to the design of the clothing, the technical requirements for the fabric and manufacturing processes, labeling and packaging and other matters. This contrasts with the general lack of mandatory technical requirements for clothing in almost all countries, quite unlike textiles which have to comply with a number of technical regulations.

The exporter therefore has to find out exactly what these buyer-specific requirements are, and which testing and certification regimes are demanded. Mandatory technical requirements for textiles cannot be ignored by the clothing manufacturers either. They will have to ensure that the cloth, yarn and other
manufacturing inputs do comply with the mandatory requirements, otherwise the clothing fashioned from them may not be allowed in the marketplace.

As regards conformity assessment, some of the major retail organizations operate their own textile testing laboratories, whereas others rely on independent accredited laboratories and certification organizations for these services. Many national standards bodies in textile-producing countries have established textile


Some countries have technical regulations requiring the proper labelling of textiles. In the United States, for example, any product that is exclusively composed of textile fibers, or a product containing at least 80% by weight of textile fibers, has to carry a label indicating the fiber content, e.g. cotton 80% polyester 15% nylon 5%. The types of names that must be used are also prescribed. Some products that contain textile fiber are exempt from these requirements, including tobacco pouches, footwear, sails, and oven gloves. The European Union has similar fiber content requirements in place.

The other information that must appear on labels has to do with how the textile products are to be cared for. Examples are how warm they can be washed; whether they should only be dry-cleaned; whether they can be spin-dried or ironed, and if so at what temperatures. These labels differ slightly from country to country. Hence, the correct pictograms have to be obtained for each market. Typical examples are shown in the figure below. Some countries (for instance, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Switzerland) have no national labelling requirements and purchaser requirements have to be considered.

Clothing sizes

No recognized international system for clothing sizes has been implemented so far, hence clothing has to be marked specifically for the market it is destined for. A man’s dress shirt marked 15 in the United States would be the equivalent of a size 38 shirt on the European continent. For women, a 12 in the United States would translate roughly into a 14 in the United Kingdom and a 42 in France.

In the European Union, two mandatory standards have been in operation since 2006 to replace the many national systems, namely: EN 13402-1: Terms, definitions and body measurement procedure and EN 13402-2: Primary and secondary dimensions. In contrast, there is no mandatory standard in place in the United States, and a whole series of customs and practices have evolved over the years, starting with the US standard clothing sizes which are slowly being replaced by US catalogue clothing sizes. A few countries make use of the ISO standards on clothing sizes. These are
-ISO 3635:1981 Size designation of clothes – Definitions and body measurement procedure,
-ISO 8559:1989 Garment construction and anthropometric surveys – Body dimensions, and
-ISO/TR 10652:1991 Standard sizing systems for clothes.

Private certification standards

Probably no consumer product is more affected or targeted by social, ethical and environmental demands than textiles and clothing. Hence certification to SA 8000 (social accountability), Fairtrade (ethical considerations) and WRAP (environmental concerns) may be required to gain market acceptance. Quite a few eco-labelling type schemes exist that could be applied to textiles and clothing and in some markets these are important parameters for marketing success. A few additional schemes and programmes specific to textiles and clothing are shown below. There are many of these; hence the supplier will have to determine very carefully which one of the many systems is relevant from a market perspective in the chosen export market.


The Woolmark is one of the most recognizable textile labels worldwide. It is owned by Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI). The company operates a global licensing programme to ensure that any product bearing the Woolmark logo meets strict wool quality and performance criteria. To become a licensee, one should contact the local AWI office (a list of offices can be found on the AWI website). An application fee has to be paid, and the products have to be tested in AWI laboratories to ensure they meet the standards. If successful, a license is granted to use the Woolmark. Labels and merchandising support material are provided to licensees.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a collaborative effort between the United States Organic Trade Association, Soil Association, International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN), and Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA). GOTS sets criteria for the entire supply chain from harvesting the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, to labelling. It applies to fiber products, yarns, fabrics and clothes, and covers the production, processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, exportation, importation and distribution of all natural fiber products. It is thus a continuous quality control and certification system from ‘field to shelf’.

GOTS carries detailed social criteria:
-    there should be no forced or bonded labour;
-    workers should not be required to lodge deposits or identity papers with their employers;
-    there should be no child labour;
-    workers should be free to leave after reasonable notice;
-    working conditions should be safe and hygienic.

The requirements for waste water treatment include the measurement and monitoring of sediment quantities, waste water temperature and waste water pH. GOTS certification is awarded only to natural fibers; it is not applicable to synthetic fibers. More information on GOTS, as well as a list of, and links to, the certification organizations that are accredited to provide GOTS certification can be found on the GOTS website.

Textile Exchange

The Textile Exchange (previously Organic Exchange) is a non-profit organization with a global multi-stakeholder approach to developing markets in the textile value chain. It has over 230 global organizational members, including many of the world’s best known brands and retailers, whose total sales amounted to over US$ 755 billion in 2009.

The Exchange covers the entire value chain, from the farm or producer through manufacturing to retail. It thus concerns itself with building both demand and supply simultaneously. Its demand efforts focus on the brand and on retail sales. Brand promotion gives suppliers incentives to increase production and helps stabilize both short- and long-term production schedules. The Exchange provides models and tools for collaborative planning, problem solving, product development and sourcing, and consumer education. Information on Textile Exchange activities can be obtained from its website.

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a fairly new initiative to make cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in, hence better overall for the sector. During the start-up implementation phase, the BCI geographical focus is on four regions: Brazil, India, Pakistan and West and Central Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Senegal and Togo). These regions have a diversity of climatic conditions, farm sizes, agricultural practices and environmental and social issues.

BCI will also provide access to materials, tools and guidelines to enable any country to grow Better Cotton. The Better Cotton System will build on farm and supply chain data and employ strong monitoring, evaluation and learning mechanisms. The System will be externally reviewed at the end of 2012 to evaluate whether it has delivered the desired results and impacts. BCI wants to learn from three years of implementation to make any necessary adjustments to improve both the Better Cotton System and the way the Initiative works.


Oeko-Tex (also written Őko-Tex) is another textile and clothing certification scheme based on a catalogue of harmful substances that could be deleterious to human health. This catalogue is updated frequently in accordance with the latest scientific results. Responsibility for the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is shared by 17 test institutes which make up the International Oeko-Tex Association. The Association has branch offices in more than 40 countries. With a total of over 51,000 certificates issued for millions of different individual products, and over 6,500 companies involved worldwide, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 has become one of the better known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. The test samples are tested by the independent Oeko-Tex institutes, for example, for their pH value, formaldehyde content and the presence of pesticides, extractable heavy metals, chlorinated organic carriers and preservatives such as pentachlorophenol and tetrachlorophenol. The tests also include checks for any MAC amines in azo dyestuffs and allergy-inducing dyestuffs.

Reference: Export Quality Management: A guide for Small and Medium Sized Exporters – Second Edition Published by International Trade Centre (ITC) 2011 (pg 48-51)
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