The outdoor segment, which has grown to about a 20 percent share of the global sportswear market in the past 10 years, now faces increased pressure to control the use of substances like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used to make clothing stain- and water-resistant, Reuters reports.
PFOA is a type of perfluorinated compound, or PFC, a persistent pollutant that does not break down when it is released into the environment. However, there are currently no PFC-free technologies that would continue to provide the same lasting level of weather protection, meaning more environmentally friendly products are less effective, according to Reuters.
The family-owned German outdoor clothing maker Schoeffel has cut back on some chemicals and is switching from eight-carbon chain compounds to six-carbon compounds because they break down more quickly. The potential drawback is that such apparel would need to be treated for water and oil resistance after 10 to 15 washes, compared with about 20 washes currently, the company says.
Larger retailers are already reducing the use of chemicals in clothing and products. Earlier this year, the large Swedish clothing retailer and manufacturer H&M Group said it will no longer use PFCs in any of its products. The company said it will use an alternative that has good environmental and health properties while repelling water from clothing.
Other chemicals H&M has banned from its products include Azo dyes, short-chained chloroparaffins, chromium VI and phenols, such as pentachlorophenol, which is used as a pesticide and disinfectant.
Marks & Spencer also adopted stricter rules on the use of chemicals in its supply chain, including a commitment to end the use of all PFCs by July 2016. The company worked with Greenpeace to develop new chemical commitments and strengthen its Environmental and Chemical Policy, standards that all dyehouses have to meet in order to work with M&S suppliers.
Nike, in a partnership with NASA, the USAID and the Department of State, have challenged materials manufacturers and others to create new, sustainable materials for the global apparel industry. Next month, the groups will choose 10 projects from their so-called Launch 2013 Challenge to advance into an accelerated materials development program.
The European Outdoor Conservation Association, which raises funds from outdoor businesses for conservation projects, told Reuters it had signed up 19 new members this year already, an almost 30 percent increase in membership year over year.
Photo credit: Schoeffel