H&M moves away from some water-proofing chemicals

The H&M flagship store in New York City.

Sarah Gardner: Chances are you have a water-proof raincoat or stain-resistant khakis. There are all kinds of high-tech fabrics that promise to keep us drier and cleaner. But retail giant H&M says it's going to stop using some of them because all that high performance, well, it comes from chemicals. The kind that don't go away.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: No one shopping at H&M is looking for long-lasting clothes, says Morningstar Analyst Jaime Katz.

Jamie Katz: It's fast fashion. You can buy something that's trendy. It's fairly priced.

And you'll probably toss it after a few seasons. You can't really call disposable fashion "green." But H&M has made a PR push on environmental issues, says Katz.

Katz: Taking the initiative to kind of do things in a better way for everybody.

H&M's partnered with sportswear giants like Nike, Adidas and Puma to root out one type of chemical in particular -- PFCs, or perfluorinated compounds. They're the secret ingredient for clothes that repel water or resist stains, says Sonya Lunder at the Environmental Working Group. Like, Gore-tex. And it's a bit ironic that the people most likely to wear these clothes spend lots of time in nature. Because the reason PFCs work so well is they pretty much never decompose.

Sony Lunder: These chemicals really came onto our radar screen because they were being detected in environmental samples and also in people. They're found in everybody's blood and in everybody's body.

Now, you don't get PFCs in your body by wearing a Gore-Tex jacket. They get into the water and the food chain from factory runoff. Outdoor companies, like Patagonia, have worked on alternatives to PFCs for years, says Lunder. H&M doesn't use nearly as much of the chemicals, but its size makes this a big deal.

Lunder: It's one thing to be able to buy a $400 raincoat that doesn't use toxic chemicals, but it's even better when that option if available to more people.

H&Ms will stop ordering fabrics with PFCs in January. With the quick turnaround of the fast-fashion world, its clothes will be free of the chemicals by February.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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