Outdoor clothing brands often like to present a very flattering image of themselves as environmentally friendly, with many of their advertisements littered with references to nature and the great outdoors. Yet this industry is still a long way away from reducing its use of hazardous chemicals down to zero, so what is the real cost to nature of a little protection from the rain?
Greenpeace Germany asked two independent laboratories to test 14 rain jackets and trousers for a broad range of toxins. While there were many different brands, the results were broadly the same: every piece of clothing was found to contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – with the highest concentrations in the products from Jack Wolfskin, The North Face, Patagonia, Kaikkialla and Marmot.
The hazardous PFOA as well as other substances within the Perflorinated Chemicals (PFC) group are used to make clothing stain and water-resistant. The price we pay is that PFOA is a persistent pollutant, which means that when the chemical is released into the environment – for example, via production processes – it does not break down. Once contained in food, air and drinking water, these chemicals end up in our bodies and the bodies of other organisms. Recent studies have linked them to reduced fertility and other immune disorders.
These results sit in sharp contrast with the typical advertising of these outdoor brands, and the image they portray about bringing you closer to nature.
Time for a change
The textile industry, including the outdoor brands, needs to move quickly to replace the hazardous chemicals they use with safe alternatives. Some major brands have already moved in that direction, with M&S following H&M’s example and announcing short-term elimination dates after which all PFCs will no longer be used, alongside a full commitment to eliminate all hazardous chemicals by 2020. If two of the biggest clothing brands in the world can do it and still meet customers’ needs to stay dry and warm, then the rest have no excuses.
After all, how can they explain to their customers that they can only offer protection against the rain in exchange for exposure to hazardous chemicals?
With that in mind, the only question that remains is: who will be the next big brand to Detox?