Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are a large family of an estimated 9,000 human-made chemicals that have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm, and damage to the immune system. In addition to being widely used in kitchen goods and cosmetics, PFAS are applied to clothes, shoes, and accessories like purses and backpacks to make them more water and stain resistant while keeping the fabric breathable. This convenience, however, comes at a cost. PFAS use in apparel can expose us directly to the chemicals through skin contact and accidental ingestion, as well as indirectly through the contamination of our environment.
As a major user of PFAS, the apparel industry can play a key role in eliminating new PFAS pollution by ceasing its use. To see where the industry is, NRDC, Fashion FWD, and U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a scorecard that graded the PFAS-related policies and commitments of 30 top U.S.-based apparel brands and retailers, including brands in the footwear, indoor apparel, and outdoor apparel sectors. Unfortunately, our survey found that the majority of apparel brands and retailers have weak PFAS-related policies—or none at all. This is especially surprising in the outdoor apparel industry, whose customers often value sustainable, non-polluting manufacturing.
In addition to serving as a wake-up call for the fashion industry, consumers can use our apparel scorecard to inform their purchases and help push the industry towards better and more sustainable practices.