An Interview with Georg Dieners, the General Secretary of the International OEKO-TEX® Association
By: Behnam Ghasemi / Kohan Textile Journal
OEKO-TEX is an international association consisting of 18 testing and research institutes that specialize in textile and leather ecology, with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. It was founded 25 years ago and is a full-service provider for independent certifications and services for textile and leather products free of harmful level of chemical substances and greater sustainability along the textile value-creation chain.
Georg Dieners, the General Secretary of the OEKO-TEX® Association, shares some insights on sustainability in textiles in an interview with Kohan Journal.
- Tell us about yourself and the International OEKO-TEX® Association
My name is Georg Dieners and I have been the General Secretary of the International OEKO-TEX® Association since 2015. We help textile companies to make their manufacturing processes even more transparent and sustainable, as well as to ensure customers that the textile products they use are actually safe to use. We have developed our standards and labels that give consumers confidence in those products.
STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® is our most widely spread standard. According to this standard, we test the textiles at all stages of production for harmful substances indicated in the RSL list (Restricted Substances List). After the tests have been made, the manufacturer receives a certificate and is then able to use the label. Apart from that, in 2018 OEKO-TEX® launched the GMO Test for organic cotton as a part of the STANDARD 100, which will provide even more clarity to consumers in regards to whether organic cotton products meet regulatory and consumer expectations.
The STeP (Sustainable Textile Production) by OEKO-TEX® standard targets textile manufacturing facilities and indicates that production is conducted in a socially and environmentally friendly way.
We also offer our MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label that combines testing for harmful substances according to our STANDARD 100 with the requirements for sustainable production according to the STeP certification. When people see this label, they can be assured that both the product and the company that sells the item can be fully trusted.
The textile sector can help consumers feel confident about the products they buy. Any company that takes steps towards the protection of our planet, its employees and its customers is moving in the right direction. In this respect, certifications such as ours significantly contribute to demonstrating and verifying this commitment.
- What are the current textile market trends from the consumers’ perspective?
According to our latest research “The Key To Confidence”, the majority of consumers (52%) said that they check the validity of labels on products. Almost half (49%) of the respondents said that they read the fiber content labels to determine what kind of fabric is used and 64% check whether the sustainability claims are true.
According to our research, consumers are interested in what the brands say about themselves on websites, in advertising and on social media. They also trust the companies more if there is any validation of the claims through certifications and labels from trusted organizations.
- Geographical spread of OEKOTEX®; (especially in the Middle East)
Currently the number of active certificates worldwide reaches 17000 and this number is steadily growing from year to year. I am proud to state that OEKO-TEX® is currently present in most of the countries on all continents. The majority of the most cautious consumers that tend to pay attention to labels on textile products is located in Europe, but according to the latest research, there are people who are worried about textile sustainability all over the world.
Since the Middle East has always been known for its textile industry and because the region possesses a vast infrastructure, it is no wonder that OEKO-TEX® is interested in the development of the principles of textile sustainability in this region.
Despite the unfavorable political climate in some countries, there are 1160 certified companies in the Middle East and this number is also growing. All these companies have committed to sustainable products and sustainable production. And yet, considering that the total number of textile companies in the Middle East is at least hundred times higher, we can say with certainty that there is a long way to go for us. Speaking for the OEKO-TEX® Association, I can say that we are committed to this region.
- Why are more and more big brands starting to work with OEKO-TEX®?
OEKO-TEX® certification is a way to make sure that the materials supplied are free from harmful levels of chemical substances and are produced at environmentally and socially conscious facilities. Nowadays big brands and retailers all over the world state the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® as a prerequisite for the suppliers. It saves the big brands time and money on additional testing and gives them the confidence in the textile products they themselves will sell to their end consumers.
Moreover, consumers are also aware of the label nowadays and therefore, often demand it from the retailers. These consumers are becoming more and more conscious of the threats to the environment as well as to their own health that harmful substances in textile products can cause.
If brands, certifiers and retailers work together to give reliable information to consumers, it will be easier for busy consumers to lead a sustainable lifestyle and buy more products without being worried about the impact on the environment, society and personal health. And even though consumers are somewhat skeptical, those factors will establish their trust and loyalty.
- Why is it important that the textile companies are moving towards sustainability in textiles?
It is sad to say that most textile and clothing manufacturers are doing whatever possible to cut production costs, sometimes at the expense of doing damage to the environment. But sustainable production is not necessarily more expensive. If the facilities reduce their water consumption, use fewer chemicals, control their processes and waste management, they can save money on energy consumption in the long run.
The same can be said about labor. If the employees receive fair compensation and work under safer conditions, they become more motivated and therefore bring more profit to the company. Sometimes it requires willingness and courage to take risks in order to achieve the beneficial changes.
Eco-fashion is no longer a gimmick –consumers enjoy knowing that the product was produced in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible way.
Since the pressing issues of sustainability and textile ecology are growing in importance for modern consumers, we are aligning our product portfolio in accordance to the needs of the brands, manufacturers and consumers. Trust is everything in business today, and trust cannot be gained with simple marketing advertisements. In order to gain the customers’ trust, a company should make the first step.