New scorecard grades popular apparel brands on commitments to avoiding PFAS

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Illinois PIRG Education Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.(NRDC) and Fashion FWD released a scorecard on Wednesday ranking popular retail and apparel brands on policy commitments to eliminate a dangerous class of toxic “forever chemicals,” known as PFAS, from their products. Levi Strauss & Co. earned the highest marks while Walmart, Costco, Tapestry (parent company for Coach) and GIII Apparel Group (parent company for DKNY and Andrew Marc) received low marks for failing to adopt policies that ban PFAS chemicals or provide up-to-date, publicly available information on any ongoing efforts to phase out these toxic chemicals from their products. In Illinois, more than 100 water systems, including several in the Chicago area, have tested positive for measurable levels of PFAS contamination.

“PFAS contamination can occur throughout the entire lifecycle of clothing manufacturing. It pollutes our waters, can be absorbed through our skin when we wear PFAS treated apparel, winds up in landfills, or incinerated and passed into the air,” said Illinois PIRG Education Fund Director Abe Scarr. “To effectively address PFAS contamination, clothing brands must stop using dangerous forever chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives.” 

Despite largely catering to a customer base that is concerned about environmental and public health issues, popular outdoor brands, for the most part, received poor grades. REI COOP, Columbia Sportswear (parent company for Columbia and Prana), Wolverine Worldwide (parent company of Wolverine and Merrell) and Academy Sports and Outdoors (parent company for Academy Sports & Outdoors and Magellan Outdoors) received “Fs.” Patagonia Inc. earned a “B,” the highest score in the sector, as the only outdoor brand with a commitment to phase out all PFAS from all its products by 2024.

“We hope this scorecard encourages consumers to use their shopping power for good. Commitments from major apparel brands and retailers, alongside comprehensive policy changes, can significantly help combat PFAS pollution,” said Sujatha Bergen, director of NRDC’s Health Campaigns. “It is especially unacceptable and ironic for the outdoor apparel space to have scored as poorly as they did. We need to hold multibillion dollar outdoor brands like Columbia accountable for exacerbating the PFAS crisis.”

PFAS are a class of over 9,000 toxic chemicals that are used to provide water- and grease-resistant properties to a wide variety of consumer products, including outdoor gear and clothing. Across the United States, PFAS pose a threat to air, water and consumer safety because they are highly mobile and do not break down naturally, resulting in long-term environmental contamination. Exposure to these chemicals, even in small amounts over time, has been linked to serious health effects including kidney and liver disease, developmental issues and cancer.

“Many companies fail to label PFAS use in their products as well as use outdated definitions and misleading terminology in their commitments around PFAS that are inconsistent with the majority of the international and scientific communities,” said  Alexandra Quinn, founder and CEO of Fashion FWD. “These outdated definitions and lack of labeling can result in consumer confusion around whether the products they purchase contain PFAS and prevent them from making the best choice for themselves, their families, and the environment.”