But no suitable alternatives for ‘stringent performance expectations’ of workwear

Read the full article by Business initiatives, Global, North America, PFAS, Retail, Textiles & apparel (Chemical Watch)

“Apparel and footwear brand Timberland says it has phased out all perfluorinated compounds from its ‘lifestyle’ products, but this is likely not to be acheived for a ‘small percentage of its product line’ that is developed specifically for industrial workwear applications.

In its recently released corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, the company updates on progress made towards its reduction and phase out goals for PFCs – a subgroup of the broader class of chemicals, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) – VOCs and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

PFCs are used in durable water repellent (DWR) coatings, which are added to fabrics to make them water, oil and stain resistant. 

Timberland says it has ‘successfully transitioned’ the majority of its DWR fabrics (99%) to non-PFC chemistry. However, remaining products with PFC-based DWRs have specific performance requirements, such as oil repellency for workwear fabrics. To date, this can only be achieved with PFC-based chemistry, it says.

The company is ‘actively researching and engaging chemical suppliers with the goal of identifying non-PFC chemistry innovations that can achieve the required performance attributes for these products’. 

The report shows that Timberland has not been able to publicly report on PFCs in footwear since 2017. This, the company says, is because there are many minor components, such as trims and webbings, that go into the production and waterproofing of a shoe. ‘We have not been able to track and measure to the level of accuracy needed for public reporting. We are building our capabilities to track, measure, and ultimately transition all minor components from using PFC to non-PFC based chemistries,’ it says.

In its first impact report, released in February, the apparel and footwear industry-led programme, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC), highlights chemical groups that its members are still finding a challenge to substitute, including PFCs.


Timberland has made progress on its 2020 goal to reduce VOC use per pair of shoes to 42 grams. It reported that it achieved 49 grams in the fourth quarter of last year. This is down from 63 grams in 2010.  

Traditionally, footwear manufacturers use solvent-based chemicals for gluing, cleaning or painting shoe components. VOCs, the report says, can be released from the adhesives with potential to harm human health and the environment. 

Examples of VOCs used in Timberland footwear include hexane, acetone and methy lethyl ketone.

Their primary use in footwear manufacturing is to prepare surfaces for bonding. The bonding of outsole components to various materials in footwear is ‘critical to the production and future performance of the products’, Timberland tells Chemical Watch.

The company says proper preparation for bonding outsoles to leather materials in footwear presents specific challenges that to date have only been solved with the use of VOCs.

‘The oils present on many leathers make them difficult to bond to compound materials with VOC-free alternatives, such as water-based bonding agents. Given the nature of Timberland footwear, water-based bonding agents are not capable of passing the high performance and durability requirements we set for our footwear,’ it adds.

However, despite these challenges, Timberland has reduced its usage of VOCs by testing and implementing new machinery that dispenses them through a precision-controlled applicator. The machinery gives better accuracy of application and results in less waste…”