Todays garment labels carry washing and ironing instructions – as well as country of origin, material makeup, and other specifics

Today's garment labels carry washing and ironing instructions – as well as country of origin, material makeup, and other specifics

There are few things worse in the apparel business than developing and manufacturing a great product that can't find its way to the retail floor because it's stuck in customs with a labelling issue. Here J Anthony Hardenburgh, VP, global content, Amber Road, unravels some of the rules and regulations of what needs to be said – and how.

Some of us view our washing machine as nothing more than a giant crock to toss in whatever's lying around, mixing up a kind of "laundry casserole." We're all guilty of glancing over our clothing labels, throwing laundry together haphazardly and taking 'Dry Clean Only' as merely a suggestion.

Others may care a bit more about the labels in our wardrobe to identify where our clothing is made and what it is made from. Those of us truly concerned take time to read and adhere to the care instructions before submitting the garments to a hot, warm, cool or cold cycle.

And those labels contain a lot more information than just washing and ironing instructions – they often list country of origin, material makeup, and other specifics.

As consumers, we have the flexibility of ignoring our clothing labels. As manufacturers in today's world, though, not so much.

While that world may feel like it's shrinking in size, it also feels like it's increasing in complexity. With the opportunity to easily distribute your products to new and emerging markets, the ability to sift through the logistics intricacies while accurately defining and maintaining a clear understanding of each country's labelling requirements is paramount to ensure cross-border sales run smoothly.  

There are few things worse in the apparel business than developing and manufacturing a great product that can't find its way to the retail floor because it is stuck in customs with a labelling issue.  

Today we not only face the challenge of what needs to be said, but how it needs to be said.

What needs to be said

Origin: Where the product comes from is an essential feature for many consumers. Indicating that place of origin on the product is also essential for getting that product to its final destination. In the apparel world, where trims, fabrics, and packaging materials may be sourced from different countries and shipped to a factory in another country, determining the 'true' origin of the product can quickly become murky. There needs to be a method for governing how the origin is defined (e.g. substantial transformation) and a systematic means for capturing the origin for all components in the garment. 

Content & Warning: Any apparel product sold in the US must be labelled with the fibre content, but various forms of trim are excluded from this requirement. Also, labels must communicate chemical disclosures and flammability warnings when appropriate. These rules only apply in the US; Canada, Europe and Japan, for example, have similar but different requirements.

How it's said

One of the biggest questions facing manufacturers is determining the final go-to-market destination. The answer drives the content of the labelling required. As more retailers expand the number of their trade channels, they must consider if all inventory contains the same labelling and, if so, are there inventory management inefficiencies arising as a result. For example, products labelled for the US and not the EU can only be distributed in the US. 

This final destination will determine the language (or languages) the label must bear. Any apparel product sold in the US must be labelled with the fibre content, country of origin, manufacturer, and care instructions in English.

Apparel products sold in Canada must detail fibre content, for example, in both English and French. Apparel to be sold in Belgium must be labelled with French, Dutch, French and Dutch, or German. Hence, the big long label when a manufacturer wants to label a product to be sold anywhere in the world. 

The correct language on the label isn't the only aspect of translation either. The producer needs to be sure the wording is translated properly. The marketing landscape is littered with frightening examples of "lost in translation."

The need for speed

For some manufacturers, it's not only what and how, but also how fast they need to understand the label requirement, translate, and create the label. Just-in-time merchandise and fast fashion introduce hyper-speed to the supply chain, so manufacturers need to know and quickly communicate all the previous points mentioned in order to make it onto the goods during production. It is crucial to maintain the pace of these fast launches while remaining compliant with product labelling, especially when a material changes in a garment at the eleventh hour.

Labelling considerations

While it may seem the only solution to cover all the possibilities is a label bigger than the garment it represents, there is some hope. The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) proposes a harmonisation of labelling regulations between the EU and US so that product labels could be "kept as simple as possible."

US and EU apparel groups see labelling issues under TTIP

Thankfully, label providers are a great resource for guidance on labelling requirements. It is, however, still the responsibility of the manufacturer to provide information regarding the countries where the product will be sold and the importer of record for accuracy of the care label.

The complexities of a garment label may mean nothing to the consumer, but can mean everything to your operations.

Click on the following links for more information about US, Canada and EU labelling regulations:

US: Labelling requirements for textile, apparel, footwear and travel goods

Canada: Guide to textile labelling and advertising regulations

EU: Member labelling requirements

J Anthony Hardenburgh is vice president, global knowledge, for Amber Road. To learn more about best practices for properly navigating the product safety and compliance requirements for your supply stream, download Amber Road's white paper, Navigating the World of Tougher Product Safety and Compliance Requirements.