I’ve been planning on writing a tutorial with photos on how to make your own fabric labels for clothing and other textiles. After thinking about this for some time, I’ve decided to break this up into 3 parts:
part 1 – what to say (or what the FTC wants you to put on your labels) (you are here)
part 2 – how to make them (DIY process of printing & cutting the labels on fabric)
part 3 – how to attach them (considerations for comfortable labels)
Today’s episode is part 1 – what info to put on your labels. I’m writing this specifically for people in the USA, because all the rules I’m going to talk about come from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.) The FTC laws DO apply to handmade items, not just commercially manufactured garments. And the FTC has very STIFF penalties for non-compliance. You can find their exhuastive documentation on the FTC website for textiles or their page of links called Threading your way through the labeling requirements. I’m going to summarize what I learned from all that reading, but each garment maker shoud read the rules themselves since I’m not the FTC, nor am I a lawyer. I just want to summarize what I learned, then you can do further research on the FTC website for your own business.
There are 4 things the FTC requires you include on your labels which are attached to your garment. These should be labels permanently attached to the garment (sewn in) and not on hang-tags. They also expect your labels to last through the garments expected lifetime which is generally a few years worth of washings. I think that is getting too picky but it’s a nice goal to aspire to. :0
Here are the 4 things you must put on your labels for adult clothing:
1. Name of the company or RN number
Either your company name or your registered number must be on a label permanently attached to your garment. I decided to use both. I use my company name for branding purposes, and I added my RN number along with my website URL just to look more professional. You can get your RN number free from the FTC. It only took one day for them to issue me a number through email. Actually, I filled out the online form on Sunday and on Monday morning I had a number already.
2. Fiber content in decending order by percentage
This is where you state what your garment is made of such as 60% cotton, 40% polyester, etc. You must use the generic name of the fiber, but descriptive words are OK. So you can say cotton, or egyptian cotton, but you can’t say RocLon just because they are the brand of cotton fabric you used. There are rules about what you can and can’t say on the fiber content. For example, if I make a jacket out of cotton, then add polyester patches that are less than 15% of the surface, I can still say 100% cotton. The fiber content also excludes things like elastic, thread, embroidery, buttons and other trims if they are less than 15% of the surface area.
“But I don’t know the fiber content!” You might say. If you bought fabric off the bolt, you may not remember how the bolt was labeled. Let me just say this – if you are selling garments you made, it is now your job to write down the fiber content when you buy fabrics. And I know how frustrating this can be. I don’t know how many times I could not even read the fiber content on the bolt because it was covered by price stickers or torn away. By the way, fabric stores and suppliers are required to tell you the fiber content – so they are breaking the rules if this info is not available to you when you buy your yardage. Write it down and hang on to it. Writing it on the receipt (which you will keep) is a good idea.
(update 10/5/11) – FYI – I have a separate blog post about labeling fiber content for upcycled garments.
3. Country of Origin
This one has rules that are not intuitive. First of all, the country of origin must be easily seen on the front side of the label. For jackets and shirts, this must be tagged between the shoulders, not in a side seam. For pants and skirts it must be easily seen like in the waistband, not hidden in a leg seam. The FTC is picky about showing where this garment came from.
The other thing most people do not realize is that “made in USA” cannot be used by most of us sewing in the USA. “Huh!?” you must be thinking I’m crazy. Well I am, but not about this point. Even if you handmade the garment in USA, your fabric was most likely imported because very few fabric mills operate in the USA today. Once again, it is your job to write down the country of origin info from the bolt of fabric before you buy it. You will be glad to know you don’t have to specifically say what country your fabric came from. What most of us can put on our labels is “made in USA of imported fabric.” I’ve started making all my labels with that wording because I still haven’t found any domestic fabric to make garments with. <sigh> If you use imported fabric (which is most of us) and you just put “Made in USA” you are actually breaking the law with “unfair competitive practices” and subject to fines of $11,000 for each violation. Yikes! Label your clothes properly. I don’t know how harshly the FTC enforces these laws, and I don’t want to find out.
4. Care instructions or how to wash it
On top of all the other stuff mentioned above, your handmade garment should come with washing instructions attached to the garment. These can be hidden somewhere on the back of a tag, or a leg seam. They don’t demand front and center attention although your customer may care about this label the most so keep that in mind.
You are not allowed to just say “dry clean only” when the garment is really machine washable. You only have to list one washing method that you deem the best. You really should find out the best way to wash your garments and list those instructions. For most of my cotton, rayon or polyester items I usually say something like this: “machine wash warm, delicate cycle, tumble dry on medium heat” I include the delicate cycle because many of my items have embroidery and trims, otherwise I would omit that. Keep your thread in mind with the care instructions, wooly nylon thread used in your serger may melt under a hot iron for example.
And it is worth noting, if and when the CPSIA new laws go into effect (expected August 2009) there is another item that must go on your labels:
5. batch #, location & date of production, and any cohort information
The new laws are not clear whether this applies only to children’s items or to adult clothing as well. (CPSA and FTC battle for power??) But this new label item is for tracking purposes in case your materials ever get recalled, you’ll be able to identify which garments are affected by your labels. So you can alert your customers “Anyone with a label reading XYZ should return their garment because I soaked it in lead paint before shipping it to you.” Silly, but you get the picture. This item seems to have some leeway with codes and such. So you can make up a code to put on your label as long as you have some tracking spreadsheet or something in your records that you can sync up with. I’ll be honest, I haven’t figured out if/how I will handle this new rule and my current labels don’t incude anything for it. But in the past I had a line on the label that said “made in Kenosha, WI <month>/2009 item# ___” and I would fill in the info with a sharpie waterproof marker. Consider that option. I may go back to an abbreviated version of it myself.
Whew! That’s a bunch of stuff and that was just the SUMMARY! As you can see, clothing labels are serious business. Fortunately, the part where you figure out what to put is much harder than actually making the labels. I will remind you again to check the FTC for full rules and laws.
Come back for part 2 where I’ll walk you through step-by-step with photos to create, print and cut your own fabric labels. That’s the fun part!