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The history of care labelling

Care symbols – a global "lingua franca for textile care"

The origins of care labels

The symbols used in the care labelling system that is now recognised and standardised around the world were introduced in 1963. Their origin is also traced back to Switzerland. The symbols were developed together with predecessor organisation "der Schweizerischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft für das Textilpflegezeichen" (the Swiss association for textile care labelling) or "SARTEX" for short.

Until the middle of the 1950s, textiles were almost exclusively made from natural fibres. Mostly white and coloured laundry made from cotton and linen was being washed in the washing machines coming onto the market at that time. Two washing programs were therefore sufficient: 95°C for hot washes and 60°C for non-colourfast dyed materials.

An industrial quantum leap

At the beginning of the 1960s, synthetic fibres were developed on a widespread scale. At the same time, modern refining processes (easy-care etc.) were introduced for natural fibres. There were also new production techniques for the manufacture of clothing such as front mounting, gluing and welding seams etc. In addition, the sector saw a rapid, fashionable development. New, cleverly designed washing machines and tumble-dryers came onto the market. Caring for textiles – a once easy and straightforward task – became more and more complicated. Neither interested users nor textile cleaning specialists with the best training possible were able to get an overview of the situation, efficiently care for textiles and always avoid instances of damage.

At the same time as technological developments were being made, trade relationships also became much more international during this time period. Verbal care information was no longer adequate; a type of language that could cross borders became necessary!

The establishment of GINETEX

To resolve this matter, GINETEX (Groupement Internationale d’Etiquetage pour l’Entretien des Textiles – the International Association for Textile Care Labelling) was established in 1963 with headquarters in Paris and care symbols were registered as trademarks. Switzerland was one of the founding countries, along with the Benelux countries, the Federal Republic of Germany and France. The principles of GINETEX established at that time are still largely valid today. The care labelling system, however, is continuously being adjusted in line with the latest technical and ecological developments.

International standardisation

ISO (International Standardization Organization) has supported the global standardisation of care labels since 1970. This is due to the fact that the USA, Canada and Japan developed similar symbol systems in the interim period and it was desirable to avoid a parallel development.

Due to the rapid increase in international trade and the major relocation of the textile industry to other production locations, standardisation became more important. Thanks to the introduction of care symbols, it is now possible to offer consumers from different geographical and cultural backgrounds a reliable and individual textile care information system that does not rely on language or the alphabet.

The care symbols benefit from national and international trademark protection. The symbols have this protection to ensure that there is no deviation from the established standard, which may result in the specifications being blurred and watered down and essentially in users receiving incorrect information.