WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission approved amendments to its wool labeling rules on Wednesday, including one that could allow fiber suppliers, apparel manufacturers and retailers more flexibility in advertising certain fibers on their hangtags.
This story first appeared in the May 29, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The FTC, in a 5-0 vote, approved the amendments to its rules under the Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939. The changes will take effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register.
One of the most “substantive changes,” according to Robert Frisby, an attorney for the FTC, is an amended rule on hangtag disclosures, which will allow companies to identify or highlight a fiber in a garment without having to disclose a product’s full fiber content on the hangtag.
“Commenters [industry officials] were concerned they couldn’t comply with the law if they touted a fiber because under the statute if you advertise a fiber, you have to provide the full fiber content,” Frisby said, noting that he was expressing his own personal views on the amendments and not speaking on behalf of the commissioners. “But if you are a fiber supplier and you create a hangtag, you may not know what the garment’s final fiber composition will be [making it difficult to comply with the current rule.]
Frisby said the commission found merit in the industry’s arguments and decided to amend the rule to permit hangtags to include just one fiber. However, he said the commission also included a caveat — that companies must disclose to the consumer that they are not getting the full fiber content on the hangtag or direct them to check the label for the full fiber content.
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said she was satisfied with the new rule but had hoped the commission would go a step further.
“We would have liked them to eliminate the disclosure requirement on hangtags unless there was demonstrable danger of deception, but obviously they did not accept that,” Hughes said.
The American Apparel & Footwear Association questioned whether any disclosure of fiber content was necessary on hangtags and requested clarification on how to make the disclosure “clearly and conspicuously,” according to the FTC documents.
Separately, the commission, siding with the industry, also rejected a proposed rule change that would have made continuing guarantees on products expire after one year.
Retailers receive guarantees from suppliers that the product they are receiving is properly labeled, which gives them a legal defense against any action by the FTC — if they receive the guarantee in good faith — in the event a product was misbranded, Frisby said.
The AAFA argued against the FTC’s proposed amendment, saying that most companies file dozens of such guarantees and many file hundreds, at a considerable cost.
AAFA stated in its public comments that vendors face a “clerical nightmare of keeping up with the guarantees” and buyers often have difficulty obtaining guarantees from the commission in a timely manner.