A couple of years ago, Greenpeace took issue with the outdoor industry about their use of fluorocarbons in waterproof apparel. For years, outerwear brands have relied on a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) of a certain chemistry to bead up, then disperse, surface moisture from rainwear. The DWR used as a standard for years was a long-chain (C8) fluorocarbon-based treatment that is highly effective and extraordinarily durable.
Unfortunately, its by-products are toxic and persist in the environment, a combination that makes it unacceptable despite its excellent performance. Governments around the globe have now required chemical companies to stop making C8 DWR, so generally every outerwear supplier has been searching for alternatives of comparable performance.
While fluorocarbon-free methods exists, including waxes and silicones, they are too easily contaminated by dirt and oil and rapidly lose their effectiveness, reducing the lifetime of a garment. The temporary solution adopted by a number of manufacturers, then, has been to switch from a C8 fluorocarbon-based treatment to a shorter-chain C6 treatment, also fluorocarbon-based, but with by-products that break down faster in the environment and with less potential toxicity over time to humans, wildlife, and fish.
But this temporary solution isn’t good enough for Patagonia (along with many other outdoor brands). This week, the company announced its investment in Switzerland’s Beyond Surface Technologies (BST)–a fast growing textile firm founded in 2008 by scientists and marketing experts with more than 40 years of experience in the textile industry. With the help of BST, Patagonia hopes to totally eradicate fluorocarbons, without sacrificing the current technical qualities in its clothing.
“Patagonia’s investment gives us the opportunity to accelerate testing and reduce time to market for our pipeline of ground-breaking new treatments for the entire apparel industry,” said Matthias Foessel, CEO of Beyond Surface Technologies. “Patagonia is enabling us to grow even faster – benefiting the environment and enhancing product performance – while remaining completely independent and in control of the original founders. This is truly unique.”
Consistent with prior environmental innovations over the past 20 years, Patagonia plans to share any breakthroughs that BST may produce with the entire outdoor industry in order to amplify the environmental impact to the greatest extent possible.