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Making Sense of Labeling Requirements for Clothing and Apparel

Labeling requirements for clothing and apparel — what a topic! Many of us are now in the habit of asking where our food came from and what’s in our favorite snacks, and consumers, in increasing numbers, are starting to look at the makeup of our clothing. Fiber content and place of manufacture are but some of the items listed on a clothing label. This post provides some basic education on apparel labeling requirements.

Labeling Requirements for Clothing: The Laws

First, it’s very important to understand that there are nuances and exceptions that might apply to different fibers and garments. Still, below is a list of laws that usually apply to apparel labeling:

  • Textile Fiber Products Identification Act
  • Wool Products Labeling Act
  • Care Labeling of Textile Wearing Apparel and Certain Piece Goods
  • FTC Act (which regulates false claims or origin or other misrepresentations)
  • Tariff Act (which basically requires that every article that originates in a foreign country and imported into the US be marked with the English name of that country (with limited exceptions))

Fur products and products made for children have additional labeling requirements. The FTC has also released “Green Guides” that address products that claim to be “green” or environmentally friendly.

Both the Textile Fiber Act and Wool Labeling Act apply to companies that manufacture, import, sell, offer to sell, distribute, or advertise products covered by the Textile & Wool Acts, with some exemptions.

Examples of Fashion Items Covered by the Textile Act:

  • Clothing, except for hats and shoes
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Scarves
  • Umbrellas and parasols
  • All fibers, yarns and fabrics, but not packaging ribbons

There are a slew of goods that are subject to special rules, like goods that aren’t covered by the act unless you say something about fiber content (belts, garters, and shoe laces, to name a few).

Products Covered by the Wool Act:

Pretty much most products that contain any amount of wool, with very few exceptions, are covered by the Wool Act. This includes products that contain recycled wool. Also, products exempt from the Textile Act are likely covered by the Wool Act if they contain wool.

Labeling requirements for clothing and apparel are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”).

The Clothing Label Breakdown

Below is a list of the different elements contained in a basic clothing label. (“Basic” meaning that the garment doesn’t fall under any special exceptions or exemptions).

Fiber Content

  • By percentage, in descending order by weight, using generic fiber names of the entire article (with some special considerations for linings, filling, padding, and trimmings (like cuffs and decoration)).
  • Can appear on the reverse side of the label as long as the information is easily accessible by the consumer.
  • Fibers of less than 5% can be disclosed as “other fiber” (unless it’s wool — wool must be disclosed even if it’s 5% or less of the product). If the fiber has a definite functional significance at the small amount, you may state the name of the fiber, e.g., 4% spandex.

Country of Origin

  • Must be on the front side of a label.
  • Imported products must ID the country where the products were processed or manufactured.
  • If a product was made in the US with imported materials, it must say so.
  • “Made in the USA” claims are reserved for products completely and entirely made in the US, from materials that were made in the US.

Either the Name of the Manufacturer, Importer, or Other Dealer, or the RN

  • Importers, distributors, and retailers can use a Registered Identification Number (or “RN”) issued by the FTC instead of their names. Some brands choose to use their name instead of an RN — another opportunity to show off that trademark! — but it must be the full legal name of the company.
  • Only companies residing in the US can obtain and use an RN. Foreign manufacturers may use their name or the RN of a U.S. importer, distributor, or retailer directly involved with the distribution of goods
  • Note that an RN is not required

Care Instructions

  • The topic of care instructions warrants a closer look (see below).

The FTC has additional requirements about the placement and other physical mechanics of labeling in its document entitled “Threading Your Way Through the Labeling Requirements Under the Textile and Wool Acts.” (Let’s pause and give applause for that title — who says compliance has to be boring.)

Care Instructions and Labeling Requirements for Clothing

All care instructions must be permanently attached to the garment at the time the end-user takes possession of the goods. In other words, once the products are ready for sale to consumers, care instructions need to be there. (So, if you hand-dye your fabric, but send it to another facility to be cut and sewn, the labeling requirements don’t yet have to be met.) Note, though, that where you’re shipping a product that’s at an intermediate stage and not yet finished, the government still requires that information be enclosed with the garments, even if it’s just on an invoice. This includes the name and address of the person or company issuing the invoice. Note, too, that some items that aren’t “finished” (yet to be hemmed, cuffed, or buttons need to be attached), are considered “ready for sale.” The FTC has published this handy doc regarding care instructions.

Care Instructions, Broken Down

  • What’s the regular care for the garment? In other words, what care is needed for ordinary use of the item?
  • Will certain acts harm the item? If so, say so. (For example, “DO NOT DRY CLEAN.”)
  • In the US, there are certain symbols that are acceptable — European symbols are not acceptable in the US.

Again, the FTC comes to the rescue. Check out this document, entitled “Clothes Captioning: Complying with the Care Labeling Rule.” (My hat’s off to the FTC employee that snickered when coming up with these titles.)

A note on Labeling Requirements for Clothing and Customs and Border Protection’s Role

The CBP requires that every article of foreign origin imported into the US be marked in a way that indicates, in English, its country of origin to the ultimate purchaser (in a conspicuous place, on a fabric label, as legibly and permanently as the item will permit). The purpose of this requirement is so that “the ultimate purchaser may, by knowing where the goods were produced, be able to buy or refuse to buy them, if such marking should influence his will.” (This document contains relevant case law, for the fashion law nerds out there.) Remember that whole #WhoMadeMyClothes Movement? Well, here you go.

The Point: The land of labeling requirements for clothing brands doesn’t have to be complicated. It helps to have an agreement between clothing brand and fabric vendor requiring care and fiber content information. The fabric vendor should sign a warranty, too, obligating them to essentially swear that information is true and accurate. But remember: there are nuances and exceptions that might apply to different fibers and garments. When in doubt, consult one of the FTC’s many resources or find a qualified fashion lawyer.

What’s next?

Click the image below to sign up for Spear IP’s [free] Essential Legal Checklist for Fashion Brands.

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