Textile Insight

Fall 2023

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D ave, the manager of the Telluride mountain shop that I make ap- parel and bags for, recently sent me this text: "Are our products PFAS free? I've got a customer here asking." is is a nightmare question for anybody making or selling sewn goods. In context, I knew the customer was really asking about a much larger issue. "Are there any bad and scary chemicals in the stuff you make?" "Probably…," was my one-word answer. e media has showcased recent discoveries of bad news chemicals in consumer goods, especially shoes and clothing. The three chemical categories most highlighted, PFAS along with BPA and phthalates, form a troika of misery. Each of them represents a broader chemical family numbering from a handful of variations in the case of phthalates to over 10,000 different versions of PFAS. ey are grouped together and considered especially dangerous because they are potent endocrine disruptors.* That means these chemicals interfere with human biology by suppressing hormones; hormones that are messengers the body uses to talk to itself. Disrupting that communication has proven to lead to serious health and reproductive issues. Unfortunately, PFAS and BPA are found all over the textile industry from imported fabric to cheap socks. Our problem as a small batch producer is that we source a wide variety of materials from a number of different jobbers, who are in turn buying their products from various sources further up the ladder. e supply chain at our end becomes more than a bit murky. For us to guarantee our products as 'bad chemistry free' is a tough ask. A good example would be found in our Full Zip PowerGrid Hoody. I can say with confidence that the PowerGrid fabric we purchase downstream from Polartec is PFAS free, because Polartec says so, but I can't vouch for the zippers we have made in Los Angeles. I don't know if there is BPA in the ink on the printed labels inside the hoody or in the thread holding the garment together. Imagine how complicated this becomes when you introduce recycled, upcycled and repurposed materials into the mix. Saying a product is free from nasty chemicals becomes almost impossible. Dave's text has stuck with me. It was a good question, and it gives me pause. "Are our products dangerous?" As much as the question makes me uncomfortable, it has also brought home the need for change. We need to know if the products we make have the potential to hurt people. I think that if I gently push our suppliers, perhaps in a short email inquiring about chemistry and expressing interest in finding and removing dangerous chemicals from the products we buy, they can use my email to petition their sources for a cleaner supply chain. Perhaps change comes from the little guy, the legion of small makers that respectfully ask our suppliers "Are your products PFAS free?" n Disclaimer: Mr. Gray applauds customers that ask tough questions about the unintended consequences of sewn goods production. e publisher may not share his opinions but prob- ably also wants to hear those questions. OUT OF CONTEXT By Kurt Gray Uncomfortable Questions Lead to Change. Bad Chemistry Free 66 • Textile Insight ~ Fall 2023 textileinsight.com *Potent as in effective at parts per billion, the equivalent of a drop of water in a swimming pool.

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