GB 18401: Reaching China's growing consumer market for textiles and apparel

China is the largest producer and exporter of textiles, but the country’s consumer market for textile products is also thriving. Continued wage increases along with lower inflation have translated into greater consumer confidence and spending. The trend is especially evident when it comes to apparel and home décor. Coupled with China’s immense population and the growth of ecommerce, China is now one of the world’s biggest textile buying markets, too.

The textile market in China is also not exclusively dominated by major competitors. The landscape offers ample opportunity to establish a presence and take advantage of the emerging market, whether as an importer or as a domestic manufacturer. While Chinese consumers have been known to embrace foreign brands with trendy names, many consumers are now becoming more frugal and expressing renewed interest in high-quality Chinese brands representing their cultural heritage. Given the market size, there is plenty of room for foreign competitors selling popular international brands as well as large and small domestic producers.

Regardless of the origin, all textile products sold in China must comply with the country’s national regulatory standards, which are very similar to those established in the West. If you already sell apparel or textiles in other major markets, selling in China shouldn’t be an ordeal. If you are new to the textile markets, as an importer to China or a Chinese manufacturer, the standards can be overwhelming. Either way, a knowledgeable lab testing and inspection service can explain the local regulations, help you establish a design and production plan, and carry out all inspection and lab testing procedures required to ensure consistent quality and market compliance.

China’s national standard for textiles

GB 18401-2010 standardizes safety requirements and testing methods for all textile products manufactured or sold in China. It is largely derived from the textile and apparel standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Here we will look at the basics of the GB 18401 testing standard, along with textile labeling requirements, to give you a better understanding of your responsibilities as a manufacturer and/or an importer into China.

Classes of textile products

GB 18401 establishes three classes for textile products:

Class 1: Products for babies (up to 36 months of age), which includes products such as cloth diapers, underwear, gloves, socks, bibs, outerwear, hats, and bedding items.

Class 2: Products with direct skin contact including blouses, skirts, shorts, pyjamas, socks, brassieres, bed sheets, towels, and hats.

Class 3: Products without direct skin contact including some sweaters and overcoats, bed covers, curtains, filling material, textile wallpaper and padding cloth.

Areas of focus and testing

GB 18401 focuses on testing for formaldehyde content, pH value, colorfastness, odor, and azo dyes. Compliance levels depend on the class of textile:

  • Formaldehyde content (mg/kg) -- measured against standard GB/T 2912.1
    • Class 1: (Not to exceed) 20 mg/kg
    • Class 2: 75 mg/kg
    • Class 3: 300 mg/kg
  • pH value -- measured against standard GB/T 7573
    • Class 1: 4.0 - 7.5
    • Class 2: 4.0 - 8.5
    • Class 3: 4.0 - 9.0
  • Colorfastness -- with tolerances based on the colorfastness scale (5 -- no fading, 1 -- extreme fading)
    • Water (GB/T 5713 change of color; staining) -- Class 1 (higher than 3-4); Class 2 and 3 (higher than 3)
    • Acid perspiration (GB/T 3922 change of color; staining) -- Class 1 (higher than 3-4); Class 2 and 3 (higher than 3)
    • Alkaline perspiration (GB/T 3922 change of color; staining) -- Class 1 (higher than 3-4); Class 2 and 3 (higher than 3)
    • Dry rubbing (GB/T 3920) -- Class 1 (higher than 4); Class 2 and 3 (higher than 3)
    • Saliva (GB/T 18886) change of color; staining) -- Class 1 (higher than 4)
  • Determination of odors -- measured against standard GB 18401, sec. 6.7
  • Azo dyes (mg/kg) -- measured against standard GB/T 17592.1. The Restricted list includes 24 decomposable aromatic amines believed to be both carcinogenic to humans and detrimental to the environment.

Labeling Requirements

Textile products must have a permanently attached label with proper instructions for use in accordance with GB/T 5296.4. The label must include:

  • The legally registered name and address of the manufacturer
  • For imported textiles and apparel, the country of origin
  • Product name
  • Product specification and apparel size designation, permanently attached to the product in accordance with GB/T 1335.1-3 or GB/T 6411
  • Fiber content in accordance with GB/T 29862
  • For leather garments, the name categories of leather in accordance with QB/T 2262
  • Care instructions in accordance with GB/T 8685

In addition to the permanently attached label, the following are required:

  • Product standard code: the applicable national or industry standard against which the product was tested, attached to product packaging or to the product on a hanging tag
  • Product quality classification: based on the requirements specified by the applied standard

Meeting border and shelf inspections with confidence

All imported products, including textiles and apparel, are subject to random border inspection. For textiles and apparel, labeling is usually the focus of these inspections. Noncompliant products are quarantined, seized and destroyed, or returned to their country of origin. Repeat violations can increase the frequency of an individual importer’s products being sampled at the border. For additional information, see "China Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Process Management Rules."

Once your product is in the country, and on retail shelves, authorities may also pull samples for inspection. Violations discovered at this point can be increasingly costly for your company, both logistically and for your brand's reputation.

A partnership with an experienced and dedicated third-party lab testing and inspection service is recommended to 1) establish yourself within one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and 2) maintain manufacturing and labeling compliance for as long as you market your product.

QIMA is an established industry leader in textile and apparel quality testing and market regulation inspections. We stay current on all national and international testing and labeling standards, and can deliver rapid lab testing and inspection reports at all stages of your product’s life cycle, from design stage quality assurance to ongoing production monitoring to pre-shipment and labeling inspections. Blanket testing and inspection throughout the production process will give your company more than a passport into the Chinese market. It will help you establish a long-running relationship with a growing customer base willing to pay for quality clothing and textile products from around the world.

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