The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) enforces federal labeling requirements that require manufacturers, importers, sellers and distributors of certain textile and wool clothing to accurately label their products. For example, FTC rules require that manufacturers indicate the country of origin and fiber content in their clothing. In addition, the Care Labeling Rule requires that manufacturers and importers attach “care labels” to garments and certain piece goods.
Navigating these various labeling requirements can be tricky. On May 5, 2014, the FTC amendment of the labeling rules, known as the Textile Rules, became effective.
Care labels, which can influence consumers’ purchasing decisions more than labels indicating fiber content or country of origin or manufacture, are important to carefully consider.
“Do’s” for Clothing Manufacturers and Importers:
Place all care labels permanently, securely and visibly, so that consumers can easily see or locate them prior to purchase. Ensure that labels will remain legible not just at the point of sale, but throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Include a washing or drycleaning instruction (or both) if either method is safe for the product. If a product can be neither washed nor drycleaned, the label must state “Do not wash – Do not dry clean.” A simple “dryclean” instruction is acceptable in most cases, unless “any part of the drycleaning process would harm the product.” In that case, more specificity is required (e.g., “Professionally Dryclean” or “Dryclean. No Steam.”).
Indicate whether the product is to be washed by machine or by hand. The FTC has stated that water temperature settings must be indicated if “regular use of hot water will harm the product.” Similarly, if using chlorine bleach will harm the product, whereas other bleaches will not, the label must state “Only non-chlorine bleach, when needed.” The appropriate label in the event that no bleach is safe to use is “Do not bleach.”
State how to dry the product and how to iron it, if the product requires regular ironing. Temperature settings for drying and ironing are not needed unless the “regular use of high temperature will harm the product.”
If selling a garment with multiple pieces, only one label is required if the same instructions apply to all parts of the garment, and if the garment is sold as a single unit. The label should be attached to the “major piece” of the garment. In the event that the garment is not sold as a single unit, or if the instructions differ from one part of the garment to the next, then each separate piece of the garment needs its own care label.
If the garment cannot be cleaned without damaging the garment, potential customers must be warned on the label. It is imperative that following the care labeling instructions does not ordinarily lead to product damage. Along these lines, labels must inform consumers not to engage in certain procedures that they may erroneously but reasonably assume are acceptable, given the instructions of the label. For example, if a label indicates that clothes can be washed, a reasonable consumer might infer that the product can also be safely ironed. If these understandable assumption is incorrect, the FTC has stated that the label must indicate the risks involved.
One should always have a “reasonable basis” for everything written on a care labeling instruction. If a piece of clothing indicates that it cannot safely be ironed, there must be some proof (based upon experience, industry expertise or testing) known to the manufacturer or importer that ironing the clothing would cause damage. The FTC has alternatively stated that the manufacturer or importer must have “reliable evidence” to support all warnings or instructions on product labels. Guesswork is insufficient. However, what constitutes “reliable evidence” or a “reasonable basis” does depend on the circumstances. It is incumbent on manufacturers conducting tests to ensure that the results of any tests conducted on only one portion of multi-part garments do, in fact, have applicability to the entire garment.
Importers must ensure that these labels are placed on products before they sell them in the United States. It is not necessary for the labels to be attached as the products enter the country, however. Domestic manufacturers similarly must ensure that care labels are placed on finished products prior to sale.
“Don’ts” for Clothing Manufacturers and Importers:
Certain kinds of exempt apparel, including gloves, hats, and shoes, do not require care labels. Many items are also excluded from the care labeling requirements, including handkerchiefs, belts, suspenders, neckties, or non-woven garments made for one-time use. For piece goods sold for making apparel at home, it is not necessary to include care labeling instructions for any “marked manufacturers’ remnants of up to 10 yards when the fiber content is not known and cannot be determined easily.” These items are exempted from the Care Labeling Rule.
Garments custom-made from fabrics provided by consumers, or products sold directly to institutional buyers for commercial use (e.g., uniforms sold to Office Depot for use by clerks during business hours, and not purchased directly by the clerks), do not require care labels. This also includes items that the consumer may ask to be added to the garment (e.g. lining or buttons).
Use non-standard terms on labels. The FTC recommends, but does not expressly require, that manufacturers ensure that any terms they use on labels are in accord with the definitions in the Rule’s Appendix A glossary, where applicable. For example, the term “Warm” applies to initial water temperature ranging from 87 to 111 degrees F [31 to 44 degrees C]; “Hot” is from 112 to 145 degrees F [45 to 63 degrees C]; and “Cold” is up to 86 degrees F [30 degrees C].
*Gregg Re Summer Associate contributed to this article.