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22 December 2021

Unfashionable: NZ clothing labels risk misleading consumers about their sustainability claims

Consumer NZ is urging Christmas shoppers to be wary of clothing brands making claims their garments have sustainability certifications.

The organisation’s recent investigation into sustainable fashion claims in New Zealand resulted in four brands – H&M, Kate Sylvester, Maggie Marilyn, and Ruby – removing their claims after they were unable to back them up.

Consumer NZ also identified another four brands not following labelling rules.

"To make certification claims, the fabric itself must be certified but the garment must also be manufactured in a certified factory. Retailers must also display licence numbers to help consumers know they’re getting the genuine article," Consumer NZ head of communications and campaigns Gemma Rasmussen said.

“Retailers have a responsibility to ensure their sustainability claims stack up. If they fail to do so, they risk misleading consumers,” Rasmussen said.

Maggie Marilyn and Ruby advertised clothing made from fabric certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). This certification means the garment contains at least 50% recycled content and has been sourced from an accredited supplier and manufactured in a certified factory.

Consumer NZ asked the two retailers to back up their certification claims but discovered the garments weren’t manufactured in a certified factory, so the retailers shouldn’t have been making the claims.

Glassons and Juliette Hogan also advertised clothing made from “GRS certified” fabrics but didn’t include a licence number. After Consumer NZ’s inquiries, Juliette Hogan removed its claims.

Glassons also advertised products made from materials certified by the Organic Content Standard (OCS) and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). However, clothing labels didn’t show a licence number.

Both standards have two certification schemes that identify a minimum percentage of organic fibre content. Retailers making any certification claims under any of these schemes must also display licence numbers that allow a customer to check whether the product is verified on a database.

Glassons chief executive officer Stuart Duncan said, “the labelling of goods is very complex", and agreed "the consumer should not be misled”. He said Glassons was in the process of amending the labels.

Retail giant H&M boasted on its website that almost all its “newborn garments are 100% organic” and are OCS or GOTS certified. When Consumer NZ asked H&M to provide licence numbers and transaction certificates, it refused. It subsequently removed its GOTS certification claims.

The website of fashion brand Karen Walker stated 49 percent of the retailer’s clothing line was made from GOTS-certified cotton. However, a spokesperson admitted it didn't have approval to make the claims and subsequently removed them.

Kate Sylvester also marketed several T-shirts as “100 percent organic cotton GOTS certified”.

One of the T-shirts advertised was made in collaboration with Mindful Fashion New Zealand. While the fibre and yarn were purchased from GOTS suppliers, it was ribbed, cut and manufactured in facilities that did not have accreditation.

The remainder of the shirts had been purchased as blank finished products from a GOTS supplier, but had designs printed on to them in a non-accredited facility. The brand subsequently removed its claims.

Consumer NZ tips for spotting sustainable fashion products:

  • The best way to protect yourself against “green” marketing hype is to look for precise claims and evidence backing them up.
  • Look for details like a certification licence number. If it has one, you can use it to check the relevant scheme’s database.
  • If you think a company’s sustainable clothing claim is misleading, report it to the Commerce Commission.