A tag contains far more than a brand name and size. The more we understand the wording and what the tag’s purpose is, the more we are able to be intentional in our purchases. From fiber content to country of origin, we are going to walk you through how to translate a garment tag. We will not have time to cover the “care for garment” side of the tag but check out these articles (Ariel or Cleanpedia) which translate the laundry symbols.
Let’s begin with where our clothing is made. Did you know that the Federal Trade Commission requires that all clothing labels disclose the country where the clothing was created? (Source: Sewport) The labeling of garments started in the late 1800s and early 1900s in which labor unions were able to put a signature (or label) on their work so customers could recognize each group’s unique style and quality. (Source: Apparel Production NY) Branding was important even then. The government got involved over time to regulate production and monitor what textiles were being used by knowing their place of origin (since it often involves trade amongst other countries).
Regarding items labeled “Made in the USA,” the garment may only carry that label “if it was manufactured in the USA and it is made from materials that were manufactured in the United States.” (Source: Sewport)
We found it interesting that USA textiles are often tied with other countries; for instance, “Jeans or khakis with a label that says “Made in Mexico” likely were made with cotton grown on an American farm that then was spun into yarn and woven into fabric in American textile factories…In this case, only the sewing – the last part of the apparel production process – was done outside the United States,” (From “How to Buy American”).
There are still huge transparency issues across the board when it comes to these tags. Practically speaking, companies are only able to fit so much information on that small square. There is an increasing issue with the European “made in…” labels which does not necessarily mean the garment was harvested, sewn, and packaged all in Italy or France like the label used to indicate. As it turns out, “Several higher end brands are also producing many of their fashion items in places such as Hong Kong and China at a fraction of the cost of producing them in a European high-end fashion factory but having them finished or packaged in France or Italy. According to the European Union, this confusingly provides ground for using a “Made in France” label. (Source: Ecosalon)If you want to understand the bigger cultural issues going on in Italy and France because of this confusion with labeling in the textile industry, read more here. (Source: Ecosalon )
Many brands often source where labor is cheap, and where textiles are thrown together at a rapid speed from all kinds of crops. This is not to say that all garments from certain countries are cheap or unethically produced. There are companies out there who manage ethical practices in their factories in other countries and are happily transparent about their process. It is still difficult when a company is not directly involved with a factory locally, but it is a good start when they enforce factory laws, sustainable sources, and ethical practices in their contracted workplaces. We highly recommend reaching out to brands you love, research through their website, and ask questions about where and how their garments are made.
We will be sharing more about clothing tags on how to decipher the quality of certain materials and what percentages of those materials should make up a garment.