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Klättermusen: New test methods needed for PFAS free textiles

Klättermusen was founded in 1975 by Peter Askulv, a chemist and biologist – and avid outdoor enthusiast. From the start, the company’s ambition was to avoid the use of hazardous chemicals in its products, and the goal was to create long-lasting products with minimal environmental impact. Since 2019, the company’s products have been totally free of fluorocarbons, and according to Sara Hult, Production Manager at Klättermusen, this is essential from an environmental – and perhaps even functional – perspective.

When Sara Hult moved to Åre and joined Klättermusen as a production manager, founder Peter still worked at the company, but stepped down from as CEO a year later, something that would transform the process related to substitution efforts at the company.

“When Peter left the company, he took with him his knowledge of chemicals; we had always turned to him with regard to chemical issues. So we had to rethink. To ensure continued access to the right information and support, we became members of several industry groups addressing chemical substitution.”

Sara Hult, Production Manager at Klättermusen

Knowledge through networks

Klättermusen is currently a member of Bluesign and Textile & Fashion 2030, and participated in the RISE initiative POPFREE, which aims to develop and promote the use of alternatives to fluorocarbons.  In addition to discussing substitution with industry colleagues, the company also engages in continuous dialogue with suppliers.

“Our suppliers have come to learn that the subject of chemicals is important to us,” says Hult. “We have formulated a company questionnaire on hazardous chemicals to ensure that we ask the right questions when evaluating a new supplier. But it’s not easy, we are not chemists, and neither are the sales reps at the textile companies, which is why it’s also important for us to get in contact with the right person at the supplier.” 

PFAS is "everywhere"

Fluorocarbons are a group of chemicals that Klättermusen has elected to focus more on and phase out. As early as 2008, Klättermusen’s products were PFOA-free and, by 2019, all products were PFAS-free. But achieving a totally fluorocarbon-free range has not been straightforward; along the way they discovered fluorocarbons in components they had least expected.

“The chemicals were everywhere, even in zips,” explains Hult. “But the most challenging aspect was when we discovered that the properties of the fabric changed without the water-repellent fluorocarbon coating, and, in some fabrics, the threads did not hold together as before and the seam allowances became frayed. We spent a lot of time finding new materials that worked with non-fluorocarbon water repellents.”

New test methods needed

Although fluorocarbons have long been viewed as superior as water repellents, Hult and her team, after conducting numerous tests in a textile lab the company was able to utilise, are beginning to see that this is not always the case:

“If you measure water-repellency after the garment has been used for a while, non-fluorocarbon waterproofing can actually be better, since fluorocarbons abrade more easily. In the textile lab, we had access to completely different equipment and we quickly realised that we needed to test our water-repellent fabrics in new ways.” 

Water-repellency is usually measured by subjecting a newly produced water-resistant material to a water shower in which a specific volume of water is sprayed onto the fabric through a nozzle at a specific angle and distance. The smaller the surface of the fabric that absorbs the moisture, the greater water-repellency it is considered to have.

“The methods of testing that we currently use favour fluorocarbon water-repellents, wholly unnecessarily,” says Hult.

LCA is missing

According to Hult, the fact that clothing companies do not measure water-repellency after wear has to do with the time it takes – it is faster to test a newly produced material than to first run the material in an abrasion tester for several hours. But the lack of good textile laboratories with instruments to simulate wear is also an obstacle.

“There is a shortage of holistic thinking in the industry. I would have liked tests that looked at function and environmental impact, both today and after a few years of use. We also know that non-fluorocarbon garments need to be waterproofed more often: what environmental impact will this have down the line?” asks Hult.

3 tips for companies looking to start with substitution

Sara Hult at Klättermusen offers her top three tips for companies looking to start working with substitution.

  1. Talk to industry colleagues! There is a wealth of knowledge in the industry and everyone can learn from each other, no matter how far you have come in your substitution work.
  2. There is no right way or wrong way – just start somewhere. It doesn’t matter whether you start by substituting a hazardous chemical in a zip or throughout the waterproofing, as long as you start somewhere.
  3. Make sure that management is involved in the work – we are very fortunate that the company was founded by a chemist and substitution has always been considered an important issue.
Anna Jacobs

Contact person

Anna Jacobs

Centrumledare för Substitutionscentrum

+46 10 228 45 30

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