Tag Accuracy: Clothing and Textile Labeling Requirements in Australia

The labels on clothing and textile, which display care instruction and product origin information, remain valuable to the consumer throughout the entire life cycle of the product - which is why it is important that such labels are accurate, prominently displayed, and permanently affixed to the article. Too often, however, the labels are considered an afterthought in the production process - but if your apparel and textile products target the Australian market, such neglect may be very costly for you.

The labels themselves may be small, but under Australian product regulations poor labeling quality comes with larger consequences and can result in hefty fines, recalls and damage to your company's reputation.

Here we will look at two types of labeling specifications under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), a law enacted in 2011 that brings together 20 different former consumer protection laws for better organization and oversight.

Care labeling

Based on Australian/New Zealand (AS/NZS) 1957:1998 "Textiles-Care Labeling," this standard covers the proper approach to garment care instruction labeling. Goods which fall under the standard include:

  • clothing
  • household textiles
  • apparel
  • furnishings
  • upholstered furniture
  • bedding
  • mattresses
  • bed bases
  • piece goods and yarns made from textiles
  • plastics
  • plastic coated fabrics
  • suede skins, hides, grain leathers and/or furs
  • custom or made to measure garments (e.g. wedding dresses, suits).

Why Care Labeling is Important

Proper garment care can extend the life of an article considerably, thus greatly increasing the value of the article in the eyes of the consumer. Proper care labeling not only gives garment owners guidance for best maintenance practices, but also provides potential buyers an opportunity to weigh the additional cost of long-term care, particularly for more delicate fabrics that cost more to maintain. A garment requiring 'dry cleaning' will cost significantly more in the long run than one suitable for regular machine washing, and the consumer has the right to know about the maintenance involved before committing to purchase.

In addition, detailed care instructions, such as 'machine wash cold' and 'wash separately' will allow consumers to both maximize the lifespan of an article and protect other articles from potential dye damage.

General Care Labeling Requirements

Care instruction labeling should be:

  • permanently affixed to the article
  • written in English
  • legible
  • relevant and accurate for the article at hand.

Any instructions that result in harm to the article are considered out-of-spec, and the responsible company will be subject to potential recall and/or a costly relabelling effort.

It should be noted that care instructions require text, as care symbols alone are not sufficient.

Origin Labeling

Consumers are growing increasingly interested in the source of their merchandise, and clothing and textiles are no exception. Plus, a clothing or textile company may be interested in touting certain material origin claims -- like 'Italian leather’. It is important to pay attention to accurate origin labeling when manufacturing for, or importing to, the Australian market. Again, cursory attention to this seemingly minor labeling detail can have major consequences if the information you provide is not accurate.

Another challenge for clothing and textile manufacturers is when materials originate from multiple sources. Complex global supply chains can blur the lines of a product's actual 'origins,' and tiny labeling size limits make it impractical to convey more than a word or two about the product's origins.

Section 255 of the ACL covers product-origin labeling standards and focuses on three key phrasings:

'Grown in'

Manufacturers might want to highlight an article's natural fibers such as wool or cotton. To legally make this claim:

  • the essential ingredients must be grown in the claimed country
  • the manufacturing process for that article must be performed in that country.

If your fibers have multiple origins -- perhaps because of seasonal growing cycles -- your 'grown in' claim could put your company at risk unless updated regularly to reflect the true origins of each batch.

'Product of'

This claim is essentially the same as 'grown in' as far as legal requirements are concerned, but the scope is broader, as it accounts for synthetic fibers which aren't 'grown', but 'produced.'

'Made in'

A 'made in' claim, often touted for national pride, can use raw materials 'grown' or 'produced' in multiple countries, but must undergo 'substantial transformation' in the claimed country to comply with the standard. For instance, an Australian shoe manufacturer can import raw leather from Italy, and then turn it into a shoe in their home country and claim 'Made in Australia.' However, if a t-shirt was manufactured in China, and only a graphic was added in Australia, the same claim cannot be made.

Make Sure Your Product Testing is Down to the Tag

Whether it be for care instructions or origin claims, the smallest details printed on those tiny garment tags speaks volumes about both your product and your brand. Inaccurate care labeling can do damage to expensive material and cause significant consumer distrust in your brand. Likewise, a false claim of 'Made in Australia' on a t-shirt manufactured in Vietnam comes with costly legal consequences. Once an article has been widely circulated, recalls and relabelling efforts can really set a company back.

QIMA understands that every wasted stitch is wasted money. Part of our lab testing and inspection service for garments and textiles is on proper labeling standards that meet all national and international specifications.

With same-day inspection reports and 48-hour lab turnaround time, we allow your clothing and textile product company to stay on top of your line so that no inaccurate or poorly made label will ever make it to its market, and your company will never be put at risk!

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