The apparel industry is a significant user of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, and can play a key role in eliminating pollution of the materials, according to a scorecard released by NRDC, Fashion FWD and US PIRG Education Fund.
The groups graded 30 leading US-based apparel brands and retailers regarding their PFAS-related policies and actions. They were surveyed based on timelines for PFAS phaseout, the range of products covered in their policies, transparency of commitments and their PFAS labeling and testing protocols.
The scorecard found most of the companies studied have weak PFAS policies or none at all, the groups say. The scorecard is broken down into four categories based on shoe and sports apparel brands, indoor apparel brands, outdoor apparel brands, and retailers, which included companies such as REI, Nike, Keen, Target and Costco.
PFAS are among a group of an estimated 9,000 human-made chemicals that are widely used in kitchen supplies, packaging, cosmetics and clothes. They are applied to clothes, shoes and apparel accessories to make them more water and stain resistant, among other uses.
PFAS are known to cause health problems and at least 10 states have enacted regulations on their use in products, and the EPA last year released a strategic roadmap to tackle PFAS pollution. That includes researching new technologies and methods to limit pollution and regulating manufacturers and facilities.
The scorecard graded the shoe sector by giving Keen and Deckers Brands A minuses, New Balance a C-minus, Nike a D-plus and Under Armor and Skechers F’s.
For outdoor apparel, Patagonia got a B, VF Corporation, which includes North Face and Timberland, and LL Bean received D’s and Columbia, REI, Wolverine and Academy Sports + Outdoors got F’s.
For apparel retailers, Costco and Target received a D, and Kohl’s, Nordstrom, JCPenney, Macy’s and Walmart got F’s.
Indoor apparel brands Levi and Victoria’s Secret each got A-minuses. Ralph Lauren, Gap, American Eagle and PVH scored in the B range. Abercrombie & Fitch got a C-plus while Capri Holdings, G-III Apparel and Tapestry received F’s.
Many companies across industries are introducing targets to reduce or eliminate PFAS in their products, including several studied for the scorecard, including REI, Patagonia and Target, according to Safe Chemicals, Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future. Patagonia says it is going PFAS free by 2024, REI says it will restrict the chemicals in ski gear by 2023 and Target is implementing various rules on a range of products.