GB 18401: Making China's Growing Consumer Market for Textiles and Apparel

It’s very common that the link between China and textile and apparel is viewed as a one-way street. Textiles are manufactured in China, and then they move abroad to every other conceivable market, right? But there’s much more to it, and this thinking overlooks China's rapidly growing, modernizing middle class, who are interested in buying fashionable clothing and textiles from beyond their own borders.

Smart textile manufacturers recognize this growing market and are fast making in-roads. They see a China that likes foreign brands easily bought online (especially now that the public is fast losing the taste for locally bought fake versions of international brands).

And thanks to globalization, fashion trends can become a global phenomenon overnight. Chinese consumers are more willing to pay a little extra for the real thing -- if not necessarily for the most glamorous names in fashion, then for smaller emerging brands that combine quality with affordability.

If your line of apparel is successful in large markets like the United States and Europe, it is likely that you will also find success in the trend-conscious China.

Equally as important to your success is your product's compliance with China's regulations standards, which are very similar to those established in the West. Again, if you consistently sell textiles and apparel in other major markets, selling in China won’t require a serious gear shift for your production practices.

GB 18401-2010

GB 18401-2010 standardizes the general safety requirements and testing methods for all textile products manufactured in or exported to China. It is largely derived from the textile and apparel standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Whether you are an already established clothing or textile product manufacturer looking to break into the Chinese market, or a newer brand looking to make the Chinese consumer your main focus, a knowledgeable lab testing and inspection service can provide you with all necessary information on the local regulations, help you establish a design and production plan, and carry out all lab testing and inspection procedures you need to ensure consistent quality and market compliance.

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.

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.

GB 18401 Areas of Focus and Testing

Formaldehyde content (mg/kg) -- measured against standard GB/T 2912.1, maximum allowances depend on the class of textile:

  • 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. Fabrics that are outside of established pH ranges can cause skin irritation:

  • 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

Instructions for Use of Textiles and Apparel: GB 5296.4

To comply with this standard, your product must have a permanently attached label which indicates proper instructions for use. Essential content required for your product's “instructions for use” tag include:

  • The legally registered name and address of the manufacturer. For imported textiles and apparel, the country of origin should also be included
  • Product name
  • Product specification and apparel size designation, which should be permanently attached to the product in accordance with GB/T 1335.1-3
  • Fiber content should also appear on a permanently attached label in accordance with FZ/T 01053
  • Care instructions (permanently attached) in accordance with GB/T 8685
  • Product standard code: the applicable national or industry standard against which your product was tested, which can be attached to the product's packaging or to the product in the form of a hanging tag
  • Product quality classification: based on the requirements specified by the applied standard.

Meeting Border and Shelf Inspections with Confidence

The authoritative body for imports into China is the Chinese Inspection and Quarantine (CIQ). All products, including textiles and apparel, are subject to random border inspection, and for textiles and apparel, labeling compliance is usually the focal point of these inspections. Products found to be out of compliance can be quarantined, seized and destroyed, or ordered back to their country of origin.

The "China Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Process Management Rules" establish sampling frequencies and potential quarantine actions on all imported products, including imported textiles. In accordance with the Rules, border inspection frequency can increase for individual importers based on their track record of compliance. Repeated regulation violations will increase the frequency of your product being sampled at the border.

Within the borders, and on retail shelves, Chinese authorities are still authorized (and motivated) to pull samples of textiles and apparel for quality checks. Failing manufacturing regulations once your product has already reached retail shelves 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 has established itself as an 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 factory inspection reports at all stages of your product’s life cycle, from the design stage (Quality Assurance), to ongoing production monitoring, and through to pre-shipment and labeling inspections.

Blanket testing and inspection coverage 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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