Identifying eco-friendly clothing in a store, the mall, or even online can be confusing—that's why retailers are turning to new seals and labels bearing certified seals of approval to make things clear.

By Zee Krstic
September 12, 2019
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Merethe Svarstad Eeg / EyeEm via Getty Images

More fashion designers, brands, and retailers are overhauling their manufacturing practices to reduce their ecological footprint around the world. But how can you tell if an item on the rack was made with the environment in mind? According to a new Forbes report, major clothing retailers are working towards earning industrial sustainable certifications from third-party organizations, which can bolster their commitment to environmentally conscious business. But these efforts could also allow them to use certifications visually as a "seal of approval" on the packaging and labels of an item in their stores. 

Per data from the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, more than 80 percent of consumers in the U.S. want retailers to actually signal when they've used sustainable practices to create an item. Fifty-four percent of shoppers say they'd be even more impressed by a seal of approval or a certification mark than other labeling language, such as "eco-friendly," since they trust that seals represent a higher commitment to sustainable practices. Further research from the Harvard Business Review last month suggests that shoppers could feel more compelled to buy items bearing certified "green" labels compared to traditional products in the same category; that means that having a certified eco-friendly dress on display and readily available in addition to a mass-produced option may push shoppers to be twice as likely to buy the former. 

As for creating a new kind of clothing tag or label, it could enable shoppers in larger retail facilities—such as department stores, malls, or outlet stores—to actually differentiate between the value of similar items. "Having a tangible and visible demonstration of what a company believes in is certainly a competitive edge," Ana Andjelic, a retail strategy executive and consultant, told Forbes. "In a situation where a consumer is choosing between two equally viable options in terms of quality, convenience, and price, a sustainable certificate can tip the scales in favor of a company who has it versus the one who doesn't." 

Forbes highlights a few fashion brands that have already moved towards this new shopping approach: Faherty has earned the BLUESIGN certification, which is centered around sustainable production of raw textiles used in clothing design and manufacturing down the line. Another Europe-based example, Frances Austen, has turned to suppliers in order to earn certifications; it uses Italian cashmere producer Carriagi, which holds a Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification, meaning it's entirely free of harmful chemicals among other features.

While major U.S. retailers and designers committing to certifications could only lead to positive change on any scale, Andjelic tells Forbes it's important for shoppers to actually understand what each certification means. Different certifications come with various requirements; while a label might help you identify something that has been produced without resorting to traditional methods, it doesn't automatically mean the brand in question has vastly improved their practices. "We should all ask questions about those certificates, and make sure to hold the companies displaying them truly responsible for the implied standards," she says.

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