Textiles are notorious for the enormous amount of energy they require in material processing, weaving, dyes, and labor. The emphasis on human safety and health or the integrity of environmental regulations is a fairly new concept in our modern world, so there are many reasons we should be paying careful attention to the textiles in our lives.
Per Dictionary.com textiles are defined as “any cloth or goods produced by weaving, knitting, or felting.” Textiles are a big part of our daily living including clothing, towels, carpeting, packaging tape, or tens of other items we don’t normally consider. Textiles also account for the protective materials used in fire protection, military uniforms and technology, and are even the main component (Kevlar) in much body armor. No matter who you are, where you may be, or what time it is, it is very likely some part of your person is in direct contact with a textile. It makes sense then, that we should put some consideration into how we use these products, how and where they are produced, and who is producing it.
The Oeko-Tex Association is a conglomerate of various European research institutes that understood a need for more stringent guidelines for the health and safety of textile production employees and the environment. In the early 1990’s they established a system for certifying and categorizing textiles into four categories:
1. Type I: textiles associated with children up to age three
2. Type II: textiles often found near or touching the skin at all times (under garments)
3. Type III: textiles that partially or intermittently touch the skin
4. Type IV: decorative or furnishing textiles
This categorization mandates safe levels of human interaction with a particular textile by addressing its intended use. In the past little attention was given to a wide variety of toxins and chemicals used in the production of some textiles or the manufacturing of apparel and their effects on the human body or environment. The Oeko-Tex Association uses practical assessment tools to determine safe levels of human interaction with a textile requiring a protective chemical treatment.
The implications of human interaction with textiles are diverse but there are further reaching issues to consider. What are the direct effects to the environment of harvesting natural materials, processing the goods, and producing the fabric? What role do humans play in each of these stages of textile production and what are the ecological and economical results?
Until recently, textile production was largely unregulated in either case allowing some producers to conduct business without concern for the safety of their workers or immediate environment. As the global economy and production of textiles became more and more interconnected, the need for safety measures became apparent and small but significant measures were devised to protect workers and their environments.
Check out some Oeko-Tex certified apparel at Green Benefits!