Source: Ginetex Germany

Message tags in textiles

Just about everybody has received them: many of us have positively hundreds of them in the wardrobe: tiny message tags, fixed inside items of clothing, carrying information on how to protect the textiles concerned. But how do they get there? And who decides on what they say?

The connoisseur takes a look at them in the shop before buying, most of us only when the first wash is due: we’re speaking about the label. Like a sort of message slip, it can be found in just about every piece of clothing and provides the customer with important information: at what temperature must I wash my top? Where was the pullover manufactured? What material is my dress made of? But what almost no-one knows is that the care symbols, such as “washing”, portrayed as a small bowl with a water motif, or “ironing”, come in a predetermined series, compliance with which is strictly monitored.

USA and South Korea wash as they want
By, among others, Petra Bleibohm, deputy chairman of Ginetex Germany. She knows the history behind the care symbols. “Until well into the twentieth century people sewed their things themselves, almost without exception”, explains Bleibohm. Only after the Second World War, she says, did the serial manufacture of clothing really get going. It was from then on that the question arose of a uniform labelling to recommend their care. And the quickest answer came from Bleibohm’s present employer: beginning in the 1950s, Ginetex invented the five care symbols one after another, which include “Drying”, “Professional textile care” and “Bleaching”, portrayed as a triangle.

The design and sequence of the symbols in use today are always identical and protected as a trademark world-wide. And though in many countries care labelling is not at all legally compulsory, “nevertheless most manufacturers stick to it – voluntarily”, says care-symbol monitor Bleibohm. She sees the reason for this in their simplicity and their ease of recognition. The USA and South Korea, however, wash as they want – both countries use their own symbols.

Numerous colours, many shapes: according to label-expert Reuschel, there are "really no limits" when it comes to the creative realisation of these tiny information tags / source: Berliner Textiletiketten

Numerous colours, many shapes: according to label-expert Reuschel, there are “really no limits” when it comes to the creative realisation of these tiny information tags / source: Berliner Textiletiketten

Preserving the labels
But how do the care instructions and other information, such as manufacturer and origin (“Made in…”) get onto the label? Here is where Frank Reuschel comes in. As managing director of Berliner Textiletiketten GmbH, with his workforce he produces up to 200,000 labels a month. His customers include international fashion houses, major retail chains and furniture manufacturers. “When I say I work in a textile-label printing business, most people are amazed”, says Reuschel. Many would think that the item of clothing and the label must come from the factory ready attached. Wrong. Only when the manufacturer has supplied Reuschel or another label producer with the label desired, specifying colour, shape, material and text, will the textile tags be woven or printed and then marked with the care symbols and information.

From Berlin, where Reuschel keeps the labels, the little tags then go to the manufacturers, who sew them into the textile. The classic for material is familiar to almost everyone: satin, the feel of which is reminiscent of softly flowing paper. But polyester, nylon and increasingly cotton (sustainability being the buzzword) are used as well. Private individuals can likewise order personalised labels from Reuschel. As a present for Valentine’s Day, however, the idea is a non-starter: the minimum order quantity is 100 labels.

Title image source: Ginetex Germany

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