In partnership with Alexandra Quinn, Fashion FWD
Updated with additional marks on February 1, 2022.
PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are becoming the latest fashion faux pas among multi-billion dollar clothing brands. February kicked off with a series of major announcements aimed at removing the toxic “eternal chemical” from iconic brands:
- Ralph Lauren has pledged to eliminate the use of toxic PFAS in all of its products by the end of 2022.
- American Eagle has confirmed its intention to eliminate all use of PFAS by 2024.
- Abercrombie & Fitch has announced plans to end all use of PFAS in its supply chain by 2025.
- PVH, parent company of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and several other major American apparel brands, has announced plans to phase out the use of all PFAS from its supply chain by 2024.
- And, Patagonia, Inc. recently updated its website to reflect a phase-out of PFAS by 2024.
The problem with PFAS
PFAS are a large family of man-made chemicals that can cause cancer, hormonal disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm, and damage to the immune system.[i] They are applied to clothing, footwear and accessories (i.e. handbags and backpacks) to make them more water and stain resistant.[ii]
The use of PFAS in clothing has resulted in human and environmental exposure in many ways:
- During production, PFAS are often released into local waterways through emissions and industrial waste.[iii]
- Drinking water sources have been contaminated when PFAS-coated clothing is washed or dry-cleaned.[iv]
- PFAS leach out of treated garments as they are worn and distributed throughout homes, often carried by indoor dust, upholstery carpets, furniture, and other surfaces.
- Young children can inhale or ingest the chemicals after crawling on contaminated carpets and putting their hands, clothes and other objects in their mouths.[v]
- Factory workers are exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS at chemical production sites and garment manufacturing plants.
- Some PFAS from clothing can also be absorbed through the skin, contributing to additional exposure. [vi],[vii]
PFAS has no place in clothing
The continued use of PFAS in the apparel industry is egregious given that water and stain resistance is not required and threatens public safety and welfare. While many clothing companies such as Inditex (owner of Zara), H&M and Jack Wolfskin based in Europe have decided to eliminate the use of PFAS in their supply chains, the American clothing industry clothing lags behind.
Clear public commitments to eliminate the use of these chemicals send a strong message to policy makers and the rest of the fashion industry that PFAS have no place on our store shelves. Companies like PVH, Ralph Lauren, Patagonia and more are showing that quality clothing can still be made without harming human and environmental health.
[iii] Rainer Lohmann et al., “Are fluoropolymers really of little concern for human and environmental health and distinct from other PFAS?” Environmental science and technology 54, no. 20 (20 October 2020): 12820–28, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.0c03244
[iv] Munoz et al., “Furthering the Understanding of the Migration of Chemicals.”
[vi] Gretta Goldenman et al., The Cost of Inaction: A Socio-Economic Analysis of Environmental and Health Impacts of PFAS Exposure (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2019), https://doi.org/10.6027/TN2019-516.