People on the hunt for those last-minute Christmas gifts should be on guard when it comes to fashion brands claiming their clothes have sustainability certifications. 

Aotearoa's consumer watchdog, Consumer NZ, recently found that H&M, Kate Sylvester, Maggie Marilyn and Ruby — brands that made sustainable fashion claims — could not back it up. The brands later got rid of their sustainable fashion claims. 

Consumer NZ's communications advisor Raksha Nand said the organisation had identified four other brands that were not following sustainability labelling rules — these were Glassons, Juliette Hogan, Kmart and Karen Walker.

Many fashion brands claim they have sustainability certifications and these can be seen in their advertising and labels. 

Consumer NZ's head of communications and campaigns, Gemma Rasmussen, said on Wednesday, that for companies to make sustainability certification claims, the fabric itself had to be certified and items had to be made in a certified factory.

"Retailers must also display licence numbers to help consumers know they're getting the genuine article," Rasmussen said. 

Fashion brands Maggie Marilyn and Ruby advertised clothing made from fabric certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). 

To say your clothing is GRS certified, clothes have to contain at least 50 percent recycled content and be sourced from an accredited supplier, and made in a certified factory. 

Consumer NZ asked Maggie Marilyn and Ruby to back up their certification claims.

The organisation discovered Maggie Marilyn and Ruby's clothes were not manufactured in a certified factory so they should not have been making the claims, Consumer NZ said in a statement. 

Glassons and Juliette Hogan also advertised their clothes as being made from GRS-certified fabrics but did not include a licence number. 

"After Consumer NZ's inquiries, Juliette Hogan removed its claims." 

Glassons also advertised products that were made from materials which had been certified by the Organic Content Standard (OCS) and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). But the clothing labels did not show a licence number.

OCS has two labels  OCS Blended requires a product to have a minimum of five percent organic fibre while OCS 100 requires a minimum of 95 percent organic fibre content. Retailers with an OCS-certified products must show the percentage of content and a licence number. 

GOTS has two logos — GOTS Organic requires a product to be made from at least 95 percent organic fibres while GOTS Made with Organic requires at least 70 percent organic fibre content.

Glassons chief executive officer Stuart Duncan said in a statement to Consumer NZ that "the labelling of goods is very complex" and "the consumer should not be misled. Glassons was in the process of amending its labels, Duncan said. 

When Consumer NZ approached H&M about its claims that its newborn garments were 100 percent organics and are OCS or GOTS certified, the retail giant refused to provide licence numbers and transaction certificates. It then removed its GOTS certification claims, Consumer NZ said. 

Fashion brand, Karen Walker, said on its website that 49 percent of its clothing line was made from GOTS-certified cotton but when approached by Consumer NZ, a spokesperson said it did not have approval to make the claims and removed them. 

Fashion brand Kate Sylvester also marketed several T-shirts as "100 percent organic cotton GOTS certified", Consumer NZ said. 

"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," Consumer NZ said.

"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."

Another certification is the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). This is promoted as the "largest cotton sustainability programme in the world" and Consumer NZ said it licences cotton farmers who comply with its environmental, labour and management standards. 

But retailers only need to buy 10 percent of their cotton from BCI-certified sources and "commit" to sourcing at least 50 percent within five years - so Consumer NZ said, "any BCI cotton in your T-shirt may also be mixed with the ordinary stuff".

Consumer NZ said Kmart's product pages did not make it clear that BCI garments could contain non-certified cotton and the store later agreed to add this information. 

Here are some tips from Consumer NZ on how to spot 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

Consumers can check a product is certified by entering the licence number in the OCS database.

Product labels must have a GOTS licence number. Consumers can check licence numbers in the GOTS supplier database.

Top Image: A woman with a protective face mask is shopping. Photo: aquaArts studio/iStock

This article was updated on January 7, 2022, after Consumer NZ contacted Re: to say there had been miscommunication about the fourth brand found to not be following sustainability labelling rules. The fourth brand was Karen Walker - not The Warehouse as Re: had initially been told. 

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