Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing now says it aims to eliminate PFCs from all products from its 2017 autumn and winter collections onwards

Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing now says it aims to eliminate PFCs from all products from its 2017 autumn and winter collections onwards

Fast Retailing, owner of the Uniqlo casual clothing chain and Asia's biggest global fashion brand, has delayed plans to eliminate perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from its products and supply chain.

The Japanese retailing giant, which also operates the Comptoir des Cotonniers, Princesse TamTam, GU and Theory stores, three years ago joined the Greenpeace Detox campaign to eliminate hazardous chemical use.

As part of its commitments, the company pledged to eliminate all PFC use by no later than July 2016.

However, it now says it aims to eliminate the use of all PFCs from all products for the 2017 autumn and winter collections and onwards.

PFCs are chemicals widely used to impart water and dirt repellency to apparel and outdoor products, but are difficult to break down in the environment once disposed.

"Although we are pursuing alternative substances and technologies for the water and dirt repellency of our fabrics, it continues to be challenging for us to maintain the same level of repellency while not sacrificing the physical properties that are vital to prolonging a product's lifespan and to identify alternatives for certain items or parts of our products," Fast Retailing says.

However, the company is close to its goal. In May it said PFCs remain in just 2% of its products, with PFC-free product categories including several lines of coats, jackets and parkas.

An appraisal earlier this year by environmental activist group Greenpeace on efforts to clean up supply chains applauded Inditex, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and Benetton for being on track – while Victoria's Secret, Esprit and sports brands Nike and LiNing were found to be lagging.

Nike, Victoria's Secret, Esprit lag in detox efforts

However, speaking to just-style earlier this year about the challenges of removing PFCs from the apparel supply chain, The North Face sustainability manager James Rogers explained: "There's a lot of focus in the industry on moving away from PFCs, but there hasn't been a lot of research on what the new chemistry is, and we don't want to move to a substitute chemistry which is potentially just as harmful." 

He added: "There's no silver bullet. You can't just flip the switch and swap out your entire line tomorrow for a chemistry that has all of the same performance characteristics and significantly lower environmental impact. If that were the case then everyone in the industry would have done it."

Instead, most non-fluorinated alternatives currently involve some kind of compromise, be it reduced performance, undesirable effects on colour or fabric properties, or changes in the application process.

The North Face takes a holistic view on harmful chemicals – Interview