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Columbia Sportswear introduces PFC-free rain jacket
Jacket's outer membrane removes need for DWR treatment
23 June 2016 / Alternatives assessment & substitution, Textiles & apparel, United States
Products - OutDry Extreme Eco Shell ©Columbia Sportswear
Editor, North America
US company Columbia Sportswear has developed what it calls the industry’s “first high-performance, environmentally friendly” rain jacket made without intentionally added perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).
In recent years, the outdoor industry has largelyconverted from long-chain (C8) to short-chain PFCs in durable water repellent (DWR) treatments. But many manufacturers have resisted calls from environmental groups to immediately move away from bioaccumulative fluorinated chemistries, saying that current alternatives do not offer adequate performance.
In a statement, Columbia said the issue of PFCs in rainwear was "an environmental problem that has been widely acknowledged by top brands in the industry, but none of them have been able to solve the issue without impacting performance, until now.”
The company’s OutDry Extreme ECO technology, available from spring 2017, uses a durable waterproof membrane that does not rely on an outer fabric layer treated with a topical coating of DWR.
An abrasion-resistant waterproof membrane has been placed on the outside of the garment, replacing the outer fabric layer. According to a company spokesperson, this removes the risk of the jacket “wetting out” like traditional rainwear does when the DWR wears off.
The jacket’s fabric is 100% recycled polyester. It is also not dyed, which the company says reduces the water, energy and chemical use in the manufacture process. It said the jacket’s technology took three years to develop.
Columbia says it is “very conscious” that while the new product gives the company a PFC-free alternative, “it does not solve the problem PFC issue entirely.” The company will continue to use short-chain PFCs in “a majority” of its waterproof products, it says.
Nor is Columbia the first brand to introduce a PFC-free rain jacket. UK brand Páramo Directional Clothing, for example, has eliminated PFCs from its supply chain, and signed up to Greenpeace’s Detox campaign.
But the company told Chemical Watch that the waxes, oils and silicones that may be used in place of a PFC-DWR “can be penetrated by oil, including lotions and oils from skin, and are very susceptible to wet out.” Because Columbia’s technology places the membrane on the outer layer of the garment, it does not require DWR to prevent wet-out. This results in higher performance than those using PFC-free DWR, it says.
When some manufacturers reference “PFC-free”, it added, they’re speaking only about the DWR treatment, which may not account for the fact that there are PFCs in the membrane.
Beth Jensen, director of sustainable business innovation at the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), said Columbia’s technology is “an excellent example of the re-thinking of the traditional product design process” that members of the organisation seek for transitioning away from PFCs.
The next steps, added Ms Jensen, will be to determine the scalability of the solution – such as costs, manufacturing capability and availability, and its compatibility with other types of products and performance requirements. “The industry is eager to implement less impactful solutions for the products’ waterproofing needs,” she said.
Mirjam Kopp, project leader for Greenpeace’s Detox Outdoor project, said Columbia's new product has “many great features” that represent a “first step from Columbia to tackle the issue of PFCs in their products and supply chain”.
But she said it is “proof that tech innovation to eliminate toxic chemicals, such as PFCs, is already available in the outdoor and textile sector”. Greenpeace has called on the company to catch up with frontrunners in the industry, like Páramo.
Columbia said it is its "challenge and opportunity to educate consumers about why PFC alternatives matter, and why it’s in our collective interests to pursue [alternative] solutions”.