As efforts to remove per- or poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from consumer products gain momentum, manufacturers of waterproof soft goods face a dilemma: how to produce high-quality products without using these harmful “forever chemicals.”
While the move to eliminate PFAS is crucial for environmental and human health, manufacturers must grapple with maintaining the performance and quality of their products.
The Dominance of PFAS
PFAS, commonly found in durable water-repellent (DWR) coatings, are responsible for making products waterproof.
They are present in everything from rain jackets to waders and even shoelaces. However, these chemicals have made their way into water systems, fish, and human bloodstreams, causing concerns about health issues including liver damage, asthma, and potential cancer risks.
Stringent Regulations and Urgent Solutions
In recent months, several states, including California, Vermont, and New York, have imposed bans on PFAS in various products, including textiles, to take effect soon.
Manufacturers, aware of the impending regulations, are already working to reduce PFAS content in their products. The urgency to find alternatives is evident, as failure to comply with these regulations could jeopardize their businesses.
Collaborative Approach and Innovation
Manufacturers, despite being competitors, are coming together to solve this complex challenge. Shared sourcing of materials and cooperation in solving the problem is becoming critical.
The textile industry acknowledges the need for transparency in supply chains and research, promoting innovation for effective PFAS-free alternatives.
Performance vs. Compliance
While striving to meet regulatory deadlines, manufacturers are aware of the performance gap that eliminating PFAS might create. PFAS-free products might not match the performance of their counterparts initially. This reality is being openly communicated to consumers, as companies prioritize health and environmental concerns over immediate functionality.
Innovative Solutions on the Horizon
Despite the difficulties, manufacturers like Simms, Orvis, Patagonia, and Grundéns are committed to finding viable alternatives to PFAS. They are conducting extensive research to identify suitable materials that can replicate the water-repellency and durability provided by PFAS coatings. Collaboration with suppliers and textile mills is paving the way for the development of effective DWR materials.
Balancing Costs and Benefits
Manufacturers are conscious that producing PFAS-free gear might result in increased costs. However, they are determined to prioritize sustainability and environmental responsibility over short-term financial gains. Consumers may need to invest more in high-quality, PFAS-free gear that ensures their well-being and contributes to a healthier planet.
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