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Water repellency: Membranes and DWR

It’s a delicate balance to keep your feet dry without any use of fluorocarbons. Our struggle to make 100% PFC-free shoes continues.

Outdoor products are normally treated with different substances so that they become water and dirt repellent, commonly known as DWR (Durable Water Repellency). Natural waxes, oils, and human-made chemicals can be used. The benefit in chemicals has been superior functionality and ease of application, in combination with price. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals are based on fluorocarbon-chemistry, which is harmful to both environment and people. The terminology is not crystal clear and differs between countries. Per- and polyfluorinated carbons, called PFCs or PFAS, is a big group. The PFC’s are manmade, toxic, and persistent. They can accumulate in the food chain of various ecosystems. Many fluorocarbons are already forbidden to use, and the list is growing. The most known substances are the PFAS and PFOS that include several thousands of different molecules (only a few of them are well documented), but there are also many other fluorocarbons that we need to avoid. This is an area where precaution for potentially harmful substances is called for, so there is a legitimate need to switch to PFC free DWRs.

Apart from the DWR treatments on the materials used in shoe production, there is another potential source of harmful PFCs from Icebug products - the PTFE material of the Gore-Tex membrane in waterproof breathable products. Even though the PTFE itself is stable in the user phase, hazardous PFCs are used in the production of PTFE and if the shoes are burnt after being disposed, PFCs can be released. Icebug decided to keep working with Gore fabrics as Gore has committed to eliminate hazardous PFCs from production of the type of laminate Icebug uses by end of 2020. We believe that we can have a stronger impact pushing this topic from the brand customer perspective as well. Parallelly we constantly seek alternatives and there are several new sustainable membranes developing.

The PFC’s are providing outstanding functionality, and it’s difficult to find replacements for all areas of use, but there is certainly interesting development going on. However, not all of us work in extreme conditions where the most demanding waterproof equipment is needed. Icebug makes outdoor products for many different occasions, from ultra-trail running to daily dog walking and mail delivering. Some of our products are treated with DWR and others are not, and the work to get all of our shoes PFC-free continues. We ensure this by close follow-up of suppliers and testing the chemical content of products before shipping from the factory.

Icebug participated in POPFREE which was a swedish project with the overall goal of creating a transition in sectors using PFCs to feasible non-fluorinated alternatives. Icebug joined this project as one of fourteen brands in the outdoor and clothing industry working to phase out fluorinated Durable Water Repellency (DWR) treatments used in our products.

More about this project can be found here:

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