Nothing is more important than ensuring the safety of your customer. After all, selling or manufacturing goods that are not only unfit for purpose, but also downright dangerous, is a surefire way to ruin your reputation and - potentially - your business.
It's a problem that raised its head with a vengeance last month, when Mattel and Toys 'R' Us were both forced to recall thousands of China-sourced toys and babies' bibs after the discovery that they contained lead paint and other lead elements.
Of course, lead isn't usually an issue in corporate clothing and workwear, but there's always a risk that clothing can contain other dangerous or undesirable substances - and that's where the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 comes in.
The 15-year-old voluntary testing and certification system is currently used by over 7,500 companies in 80 countries, with 900 textile and clothing producers in China alone having signed up to the standard. Each of these participants is then able to use the standard's "Confidence in Textiles" label on their products.
The testing and certification of textile products is carried out exclusively by the International Oeko-Tex Association's 14 independent test institutes, using a globally binding list of criteria. The criteria includes legally banned and regulated substances, plus other chemicals known to be harmful to health.
This latter list includes allergenic dyes and guidelines to allow buyers to take health precautions - for example, ensuring that the clothing has a skin-friendly pH value. These criteria are reassessed by the institute every year and modified in accordance with market trends and new scientific findings.
Oeko-Tex is aware, however, that one universal list of criteria is impractical and unfairly restrictive, so it has been broken down into a number of guidelines with different levels of testing. The closer a given fabric is to the skin, the stricter the rules become.
Thus baby clothing and textile toys receive the highest level of scrutiny, followed by underwear, towels and other close-to-the-body items. However, all levels of measurement are designed to be even more rigorous than is legally required, ensuring that the end user is fully protected.
Keeping well below the norms
For example, under European legislation, it is only necessary to declare 1500 ppm of formaldehyde per kilogram of textile, whereas the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, with its differentiation between product classes, sets much stricter standards.
In product classes III (textiles not coming into direct contact with the skin) and IV (furnishing materials), a maximum of 300 ppm is permitted, while for items in close contact with the body, the limit is set at 75 ppm - and for baby articles there must be no traces of formaldehyde at all.
By comparison, even a good quality apple contains about 20 ppm of formaldehyde.
As well as certifying fabrics, the Oeko-Tex system also certifies raw materials and finished manufactured articles at all stages of processing along the textile chain.
However, for a finished product to be endorsed with the Oeko-Tex label, all its components - including accessories such as buttons, zips and linings - must have been successfully tested.
Of course, it's possible that once a certificate has been given, the quality of the products can backslide. So to ensure that compliance has been maintained, Oeko-Tex purposely takes a yearly random sampling from retailers, suppliers and ongoing production.
As a result, the “Confidence in Textiles“ label has become a signifier for one of the best-known, most trusted quality assurance standards in the world - and with 15 years of successful operation under its belt, it's likely to remain so for much longer.