PFC has been the standard technology for water-repellent finishes for cycling and other clothing for years. This makes it all the more impressive that German brand VAUDE has eliminated this chemical for 100% PFC-free cycling clothes.
While PFC was also a very convenient and cost-effective solution, these fluorocarbons are harmful ecologically. But because of their low cost and effectiveness, interest in developing alternative solutions was low. In addition, public awareness was also very limited. But these facts didn’t discourage VAUDE. “In view of the serious environmental impacts caused by PFC, our only choice was to eliminate it completely,” said Antje von Dewitz, VAUDE CEO. Since that time, VAUDE has been striving toward the elimination of PFC at all levels.
VAUDE is determined to completely eliminate the use of ecologically harmful fluorocarbons (PFC) from all of its products. With the upcoming Spring/Summer 2018 Collection, the cycling and outdoor outfitter has taken another major step toward achieving this goal: All textile materials in the apparel collection are now fully PFC-free.
VAUDE’s achievement in this area was anything but a given. Over ten years ago when VAUDE made the decision to eliminate the use of harmful materials –and PFC in particular – the company was a lone wolf in the industry. PFC was the standard technology for water-repellent finishes and also a very convenient and cost-effective solution.
Waterproof apparel with PFC-free membranes
The first step in 2011 was to give all VAUDE waterproof apparel PFC-free membranes. The membrane is a thin layer that keeps water out and is breathable at the same time. PFC is still required for the production of most conventional membranes.
PFC-free water-repellent gear – a feat of strength
In the next step, VAUDE set itself the goal of eliminating the use of PFC for all water-repellent finishes. A finish is a surface treatment that causes the water to bead up on the outer surface of a textile. Without this waterproofing, also called Durable Water Repellency (DWR), the outer material would absorb water and create a clammy feeling. However, this presented VAUDE with great challenges: Until then it hadn’t been possible to produce waterproof finishes without PFC, that actually worked well causing water to pearl up. So VAUDE set to work with material suppliers and the chemical industry to find alternative solutions; its influence as an individual mid-sized company, however, was small. It wasn’t until Greenpeace launched its Detox Campaign in 2012, drawing attention to the global spread of PFC in the environment and lambasting the outdoor industry, that things began to change. The pressure that Greenpeace was exerting on outdoor brands also reached the chemical industry. From that point on, suppliers began to seriously consider PFC-free alternatives.
The chemical supply industry had to change direction, develop new standards and build competencies. In order to move forward as quickly as possible, VAUDE initiated close cooperation with all parties involved in its supply chain as well as with competitors. “We organized round-table discussions and joint exchanges with our suppliers to determine the right formulas and the optimal processes for new finishes. Because each individual material – each individual colour even – reacts differently and this technical expertise first had to be jointly developed,” said Antje von Dewitz.
VAUDE also conducted extensive research itself in order to develop testing methods and standards that were then given to the suppliers. These were assessed by VAUDE in the company’s own laboratory as well as in field tests. At times, materials that passed laboratory tests failed in field testing. When that occurred, planned production had to be cancelled and tests had to be rerun with other alternatives. With considerable time and effort, more than 300 fabrics with various PFC-free finishes were tested to ensure that VAUDE’s high performance requirements for waterproofing were met. “This is what our customers expect from a rain jacket, no matter how environmentally friendly its production,” said Antje von Dewitz. As a result, the outdoor outfitter succeeded in its transition to ever more products with PFC-free technologies; these are summarized under the name “VAUDE Eco Finish.”
All apparel fabrics PFC-free
Following VAUDE’s transition to 100 % PFC-free production of water-repellent apparel such as softshell jackets and trekking pants for the Summer Season 2015, the phase out began for all outer fabrics for waterproof products such as rain jackets and rain trousers. With the launch of the Spring/Summer 2018 Collection, all apparel fabrics are 100 % PFC-free, made with Eco Finish and the next major milestone in VAUDE’s voluntary commitment to the Greenpeace Detox Commitment has been reached ahead of schedule. VAUDE voluntarily undertook the elimination of all harmful substances from the entire supply chain by 2020 at the latest. The only exception: to date there hadn’t been PFC-free alternatives for waterproof zips in high performance products from suppliers. Starting in summer 2019 VAUDE will be one of the first outdoor manufacturers to phase out its use here as well.
VAUDE is working hard to make its footwear, backpacks and tents PFC-free. However, the transition is extremely complex, as these consist of numerous components from many different suppliers. Nevertheless, VAUDE has made considerable progress – 96 % of backpacks and footwear are already PFC-free – and the company is confident that it will reach its target of 100 % by 2020.
“For us, the PFC phase-out for our apparel fabrics was an enormous feat of strength. We mastered this challenge by years of working with our partners from the chemical industry and our material suppliers focusing strongly on the solutions themselves as well as on process reliability and by carrying out countless tests. I am very proud of the fact that today, we can show that it is possible to offer PFC-free alternatives without our customers having to forego important functionality.” said Antje von Dewitz.
“VAUDE has taken the PFC issue seriously from the beginning and has now set a very ambitious timeline to eliminate these hazardous chemicals by 2018 from its entire supply chain. VAUDE is one of very few outdoor manufacturers that is committed to Detox and is consistently following this path with all its challenges. This is a true pioneering achievement that requires a lot of commitment and perseverance”, explained Chiara Campione, Senior Corporate Strategist at Greenpeace.
The VAUDE milestones to PFC-Free
- Winter 2011: PFC-free membranes
- Summer 2015: PFC-free water repellent apparel
- Summer 2016: all sleeping bags PFC-free
- Summer 2017: first PFC-free backpacks and tents
- Summer 2018: all apparel fabrics are PFC-free
- Winter 2018: 96 % of backpacks and footwear are PFC-free
- Goal for 2020: all VAUDE products will be 100 % PFC-free
All VAUDE products with PFC-free Eco Finish
More details about the VAUDE PFC-free programme are available online.