Outdoor clothing makers strip environmental nasties from their kit

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2013 12:20 PM

FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany (Reuters) - Makers of outdoor clothing are bowing to pressure to get rid of many of the chemicals in their kit that help keep hikers and climbers warm and dry but are also harmful to the environment.

Previously a niche part of the sporting goods market, the outdoor segment has expanded so rapidly over the past decade that it now accounts for about 20 percent of the global sportwear market.

With increased sales comes increased scrutiny about the use of substances like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used to make clothing stain and water-resistant - a big selling point for makers of outdoor clothing.

PFOA is a persistent pollutant, which means that it does not break down when it is released into the environment.

"As we've become bigger, it's only right that our industry is questioned," Mark Held from the European Outdoor Group said on the sidelines of the Outdoor trade fair in Friedrichshafen.

"A lot of these companies started out as just one person, they're very entrepreneurial, but now they realize they can't continue with the same practices."

Clothing retailers like H&M and Marks & Spencer have already agreed to make their clothing PFC-free.

But many outdoor industry brands have said 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.

Family-owned Schoeffel, exhibiting at the fair, said it was working towards becoming PFC-free. Like brands such as Patagonia and Marmot, Schoeffel has cut back on some chemicals and is switching to compounds that have a six-carbon, rather than an eight-carbon chain, meaning they degrade more quickly.

This means its new jackets and trousers - coming out next summer - will need to be treated for water and oil resistance after around 10-15 washes, compared with around 20 before.

"We have sacrificed functionality in order to be more environmentally-friendly," CEO and owner Peter Schoeffel said.

Swedish brand Hagloefs, part of Asics, also said at the fair that it had decided to stop antibacterial treatment of its products, replacing the silver salt solution with a non-toxic mineral-based treatment.

The European Outdoor Conservation Association, which raises funds from outdoor business to put directly into conservation projects, said it had signed up 19 new members this year already, an almost 30 percent increase on last year.

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Sophie Walker)