By Sujatha Bergen, Yiliqi, Natural Resources Defense Council and Alexandra Quinn, Founder and CEO of Fashion FWD
Updated with additional brands on February 1, 2022.
PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are becoming the latest fashion faux pas across multi-billion dollar apparel brands. February kicked off with a series of major announcements to eliminate the toxic “forever chemical” from iconic brands:
- Ralph Lauren committed to eliminate toxic PFAS use in all of its products by the end of 2022.
- American Eagle confirmed plans to eliminate all PFAS use by 2024.
- Abercrombie & Fitch reported it plans to ensure all PFAS use in its supply chain is ended by 2025.
- PVH, parent company of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and several other major U.S. apparel brands, 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 PFAS phase-out by 2024.
The problem with PFAS
PFAS are a large family of human-made chemicals that can cause cancer, hormone disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm, and damage to the immune system.[i] They are applied to clothing, shoes, and accessories (i.e., purses and backpacks) to make them more water and stain resistant.[ii]
Using PFAS in apparel has led to human and environmental exposure in a numerous of ways:
- During production, PFAS are oftentimes released into the local waterways through emissions and industrial waste.[iii]
- Drinking water sources have been contaminated when PFAS-coated apparel is washed or dry-cleaned.[iv]
- PFAS sheds from treated clothing as it is worn and distributed throughout homes, often carried by indoor dust, coating carpets, furniture, and other surfaces.
- Young children can inhale or ingest the chemicals after crawling on contaminated carpets and putting their hands, clothing, and other objects in their mouths.[v]
- Factory workers are exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS at chemical production sites and apparel manufacturing facilities.
- Some PFAS from apparel can also be absorbed through the skin, contributing to additional exposure. [vi],[vii]
PFAS has no place in apparel
The continued use of PFAS in the apparel sector is egregious given that it is not necessary to achieve water and stain resistance and threatens public safety and well-being. While numerous apparel companies such as Inditex (owner of Zara), H & M and Jack Wolfskin based in Europe have moved to eliminate the use of PFAS in their supply chains, the U.S. apparel industry is lagging 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 has no place on our store shelves. Companies like PVH, Ralph Lauren, Patagonia, and many others show that quality apparel can still be made without harming human and environmental health.
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “PFAS Master List of PFAS Substances (Version 2) in DSSTox,” CompTox, https://comptox.epa.gov/dashboard/chemical_lists/PFASMASTER (accessed September 16, 2020).
 Danish Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Alternatives to Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Textiles, 2015, https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/WorkGroups/House%20Human%....
 Rainer Lohmann et al., “Are Fluoropolymers Really of Low Concern for Human and Environmental Health and Separate From Other PFAS?," Environmental Science & Technology 54, no. 20 (October 20, 2020): 12820–28, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.0c03244
 Munoz et al., “Furthering the Understanding of the Migration of Chemicals,”downloaded from http://www.cec.org/files/documents/publications/11777-furthering-underst..., February 4 2022
 Yan Wu et al., “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Paired Dust and Carpets From Childcare Centers.” Chemosphere 251 (July 2020): article 126771, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2020.126771.
 Gretta Goldenman et al., The Cost of Inaction: A Socioeconomic Analysis of Environmental and Health Impacts Linked to Exposure to PFAS (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2019), https://doi.org/10.6027/TN2019-516.
 Hillary L. Shane et al., “Immunotoxicity and Allergenic Potential Induced by Topical Application of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in a Murine Model,” Food and Chemical Toxicology 136 (February 2020), article 111114, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278691520300016.