FAQ

AFIRM

A: Other brands are welcome to apply for membership in AFIRM. Contact AFIRM Director Nathaniel Sponsler (nsponsler@phylmar.com) for additional information about membership requirements and how to apply.

RESTRICTED SUBSTANCES — GENERAL

A: AFIRM has published a Chemistry Toolkit and Chemical Information Sheets for each chemical or group of chemicals included on the AFIRM Restricted Substances List (RSL).

It is recommended that suppliers check the AFIRM RSL as well as individual brand RSLs for additional substances and groups of substances. Some brands restrict additional substances not included on the AFIRM RSL.

A: Children are at greater risk of harm due to their developing organs, lower body weight, and the accumulative nature of some chemicals.

Thus, all RSL chemicals are important for children’s products within scope, and some limits are lower for children (e.g., formaldehyde).

Of particular concern:

in EU: phthalates (plasticizer in PVC) in childcare articles

in US: lead (metal trim, surface coatings, pigments) and phthalates

A: To the best of our knowledge, governing bodies consider information from health professionals, reputable scientific organizations, reputable pressure groups, and credible industry associations like AFIRM. We recommend that this question be directed to governing bodies themselves for more detailed information.

A: Regardless of the type of apparel, footwear, or related accessory such as handbags and various sporting goods, each product should comply with the AFIRM RSL or similar brand-specific RSL restrictions to ensure consumer safety and simplify requirements for the supply chain. Differing requirements for closely related products utilizing the same materials generates confusion and creates barriers to compliance in the global supply chain. Check with your brand customer to understand exactly which products fall within scope of their RSL.

A: The AFIRM RSL and some AFIRM member RSLs relate solely to chemicals found in finished products. However, many global brands have wider policies regarding the use of chemicals in manufacturing for the health and safety of workers and the environment. These requirements may be included in a brand’s RSL or separately included in a stand-alone harmonized industry MRSL (e.g. the ZDHC MRSL) or brand-specific MRSL.

A: Generally, an RSL does not have any performance testing requirements. You will need to satisfy a brand’s quality and performance expectations in addition to RSL requirements.

A: Usually, but some brands restrict additional substances not included on the AFIRM RSL, or they establish stricter limits with their own brand-specific RSL. There are also some items that do not appear on an RSL (e.g., radioactive substances, explosives). Please remember that many companies require vendors to sign agreements that make vendors responsible for any applicable legal or safety requirements that may not have been specifically listed in the companies’ RSL or product safety/regulatory manuals.

A: The AFIRM RSL, and any brand-specific RSL also applies to sewing thread.

A: AFIRM companies are aware that a few restricted substances may not be intentionally added along the supply chain but are present as by-products, through reaction between other chemicals, or as contaminants. No systematic survey has been done, but it is generally known which chemicals of concern are at greater risk of occurring as reaction products, (e.g., formaldehyde, PFOA) and how to control them. If contamination is the cause (lead in coatings is sometimes traceable to contamination), usually the sources can be controlled with care by the factory or supplier. This is why a supplier’s own baseline testing, followed by root cause analysis if the unexpected is found, is a “best practice.”

A: Packaging materials should comply with the AFIRM Packaging RSL or brand-specific packaging restrictions. This should minimize any contamination of the final product by contact with packaging materials.

A: This depends on the nature of the change. The AFIRM RSL and many brand-specific RSLs are generated based on a best practice approach. If a new requirement/change is based on a new legal regulation, (e.g., US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008) immediate action may be necessary to meet the legal timeline, since brands are naturally expected to deliver legally compliant products. Suppliers are also expected to pro-actively secure legal compliance of their products on their own. With good cooperation, other requirements based on consumer protection can be worked out and communicated together with strategic suppliers, so implementation timelines should not be a problem.

Depending on the proposed change, AFIRM and its member companies may consult experts from testing laboratories, chemical companies, and suppliers before introducing lower limits or new substances to the RSL. AFIRM companies may also send out the AFIRM or company-specific RSLs months before they become effective to give suppliers plenty of lead time to meet new requirements.

CHEMICAL LEGISLATION (REACH, etc.)

A: Each country or region (including several US States) has its own specific chemical regulations. The AFIRM RSL captures the most stringent regulation globally and in many cases includes additional chemicals or stricter limits to promote best practice and advance the industry. RSL testing can be performed on production quality material components before they are made into finished products, on current production, or on post production products. CPSIA, EU REACH, China, and other regulations with provisions applicable to finished goods are written such that they apply to finished product testing.

A: There is much discussion and disagreement about the definition of “intended release” under REACH. The ECHA Guidance Document on Requirements for Substances in Articles says that “a release of substances from articles is intended if it fulfills an accessory function which is deliberately planned and would not be achieved if the substance were not released. In the case of scented articles, for example, the fragrance substances need to be released in order for the article to be smelled.”

Substances that are released because of ageing of articles, because of wear and tear or as an unavoidable side-effect of the functioning of the article, are generally not intended releases, as the release does not provide an intended function. Also, a release is not intended if it is the result of abuse or an accident. The conditions of use during which the intended release occurs have to be “normal or reasonably foreseeable” conditions of use. A release of chemicals formed during chemical reactions is also not considered “intended,” for example if the product catches fire. See Section 4, Guidance on Requirements for Substances Intended to be Released from Articles)

A: Generally, any material or component that comes into direct contact with skin. Shoe upper and lining materials are considered to come in direct skin contact even though many times socks are worn with shoes. All apparel items including accessories like handbags and belts are considered to have components/materials that come in direct skin contact.

Certain regulations restrict substances in components that come into direct and “prolonged” skin contact (REACH restrictions of azo amines and nickel for example).
The European Chemicals Agency has published a draft guideline on articles intended to come into direct and prolonged contact with skin in relation to nickel and nickel compounds. There is a distinction between direct skin contact and prolonged skin contact, since some materials/components may briefly contact the skin (internal bag components) while others may contact the skin for the entire duration of use (pants, shirts for example). If you have any questions about a material, component, or product, you should consult directly with your partner brand.

OEKO-TEX

A: All materials used must fulfill AFIRM or brand-specific RSL requirements regardless of its Oeko-Tex 100 approval. Some brands accept Oeko-Tex 100 approval in lieu of testing, while others may ask for additional testing of Oeko-Tex certified materials. Check with your brand partner for their specific requirements.

A: The Oeko-Tex 100 standard is highly comparable with the AFIRM RSL and brand-specific RSLs of AFIRM group members. Over 80% of Oeko-Tex content mirrors these RSLs, but there are some specific differences. Hence the Oeko-Tex standard is not a substitute for a company’s RSL, which is what each brand specifically requires.

TESTING

A: Different laboratories offer different prices for different tests. Contact them directly for details. AFIRM has no discussions about or influence over laboratory testing costs.

A: If the material to be provided to different buyers is the same, and if the restricted substance requirements, test methods and limits are the same (same RSL), then the results of the testing might be accepted by different brands (consult each brand to understand its requirements and acceptance of other brand test reports). This is a principle goal of the AFIRM RSL, and broader adoption of the list will enable more sharing of test reports to demonstrate compliance over time.

A: It depends. While many AFIRM companies use the same contract labs, there is currently no standard report format that is accepted by all member companies. Brands typically require their own unique identifying information on their reports and have individualized format preferences. In addition, any product testing requested by a brand must be performed on that brand’s finished product. AFIRM is working on development of a standardized report format for materials used by multiple brands, but several important steps are necessary before this can be implemented.

A: This depends on the brand’s policy. Materials used in production may be exposed to different chemical treatments or manufacturing processes that could introduce restricted substances into the final product. Some brands may ask for finished product testing to safeguard against this or as part of a secondary audit function.

A: RSLs cover chemical substances found in/on products, not in the raw chemicals themselves. However, chemical companies should verify to their customers the presence or absence of substances in their chemical formulations for informational purposes. One way is to test chemical products and share the results with their customers. Manufacturing Restricted Substances Lists (MRSL) are available from different organizations (e.g. ZDHC) and brands to guide this kind of testing.

A: Sampling products for testing is not an easy decision. Some AFIRM members specify exactly how many samples should be tested per order. Other AFIRM members let their suppliers make this decision. However, the objective is for the product manufacturer and the buyer to have confidence that residual chemicals on products comply with all applicable chemical restrictions. Testing when you are not confident is necessary.

A: AFIRM brands typically publish their own lists of approved 3rd party laboratories for testing to their specific program requirements. AFIRM brands with approved 3rd party laboratories only accept test results from these labs. Suppliers are encouraged to perform their own self-reference testing on the premises or at any laboratory of their choice, but these test results will not be accepted in place of reports from approved 3rd party labs if brands require them.

A: The timing of testing depends on brand requirements and the product type. Any point in the supply chain has a possibility to cause a product to fail. In many cases the largest chemical impact is at the raw material (i.e. fabric, trims) stage. Testing at this stage can provide information about compliance prior to assembling the finished product and allow for the testing of a material only once if it is used on several finished products. However, in order to guarantee compliance of a garment-treated or embellished product, it may be necessary to test at the finished product stage. Any chemical treatment to a consumer product could introduce restricted substances, so it is important for suppliers to purchase and use only chemicals which are known to be free of substances restricted by a brand’s RSL, or capable of meeting brand RSL requirements if processed correctly.

A: When various inks that all comply with the RSL limits individually are combined into a design on textiles, the relative amount of any restricted analyte in the ink will remain the same based on the volume or weight of ink applied. There should not be any concern that an ink that passes RSL on its own will then fail the RSL when combined with other compliant inks in a graphic design. This is provided that the screen print facility has process control measures in place to prevent any contamination of the inks or screen prints in the production process.

There are rare circumstances where a mixture of two or more dyes or auxiliary chemicals may cause an RSL failure due to chemical reactions between the ingredients. Chemical suppliers can assist in preparing dye and auxiliary formulations to avoid this from happening.

A: Heat transfers should ordinarily be tested by the vendor / supplier before application. Testing of the completed heat transfer should be conducted if restricted substances are showing up in the completed heat transfer that were not contained in the original materials. It is possible that the transfer process can create restricted substances from chemical reactions between the transfer materials.

A: Chemical changes may occur during drying or curing of the material. A good example is formaldehyde: in some coatings free formaldehyde is removed during the curing stage, so no free formaldehyde is found in the dry material.

A: If the base material is different (normal poly versus recycled PET) then these are unique materials and there should be two separate tests. The reasoning is that they are produced separately and could have their own unique restricted substances issues. Recycled plastics in particular can be a source of restricted substance issues due to problems with the starting materials or thermal degradation during reprocessing (e.g. PAH formation).

A: If the base material is different (normal poly versus recycled PET) then these are unique materials and there should be two separate tests. The reasoning is that they are produced separately and could have their own unique restricted substances issues. Recycled plastics in particular can be a source of restricted substance issues due to problems with the starting materials or thermal degradation during reprocessing (e.g. PAH formation).

A: For those AFIRM brands that allow compositing, RSL testing should be performed by compositing the colors. A separate test of the adhesive layer should be performed if it is possible to separate that adhesive layer.

A: For brand customers that require RSL testing of the finished product, separately testing the metal and paint is not possible since the final product will be submitted to the testing lab for analysis. For those companies that allow testing of raw materials the answer is yes. For example, the RSL compliance of a painted metal zipper may be demonstrated by testing the paint and the unpainted zipper separately. However, these materials must then be used together—if the paint is substituted or changed, then the new paint must also be tested to show it meets the RSL. Check with your brand customer for their specific policy.

A: Some AFIRM companies treat differing warp/weave constructions as one material. For those companies that treat them as unique materials requiring separate tests, the reason is that there may be differences in the mix of yarns used to produce each knit type and this in turn may cause different uptake of dyes and finishes.

A: AFIRM brand program requirements vary, but typically tested materials should not be shipped or used in final production until the RSL result is received as PASS. Some brands perform RSL testing on bulk production units as part of an audit program. In this case final production begins before RSL testing, but products should not be shipped without a passing result.

A: Some AFIRM companies treat these yarns as the same material while others consider them to be unique materials requiring their own RSL tests.

A: Suppliers are responsible for knowing if an item they are producing will be used in an infant/toddler/kids’ style. Suppliers can request this information from the entity who is ordering the item when the order is received.

SAFETY DATA SHEETS (SDS)

A: Nominated or not, suppliers should always make sure their subcontractors use raw materials for which they can provide SDS and/or credible RSL compliance declarations. Suppliers should push them until they do or find different subcontractors.

A: Safety Data Sheets do not typically provide the type of information needed to know if the end product will meet specific chemical restrictions. However, SDS’s may provide some clues. A first step is for brand suppliers to have a good relationship with their chemical suppliers. This relationship should include suppliers providing the AFIRM or brand’s RSL to their chemical suppliers for them to provide information regarding the potential presence of restricted substances. If a restricted substance is part of the chemical formulation, then a garment manufacturer (e.g., mill, laundry, etc.) must either use the chemical in a way wherein they are confident any restricted substance will not exceed the limitation of the AFIRM or brand RSL, or test the product.

Good dye and chemical companies will tell their clients if their formulations will enable compliance with the AFIRM or a brand-specific RSL.

COMPLIANCE & ASSURANCE

A: In a variety of ways – supplier education and training are priorities for many companies. Some companies focus on control and monitoring of finish formulas, including working closely with chemical suppliers and the factories. Testing at independent outside laboratories plays a role in most enforcement programs, but it can vary from requiring vendors to 1) test every style; 2) selectively test based on past performance; 3) randomly test; or 4) no testing on their own but product will be subject to auditing and testing by the brand.

Note that virtually all companies have contractual agreements with suppliers that require products to comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

A: Generally, yes, and most AFIRM companies have set requirements to address environmental issues where there are no local laws, or those laws are weak or not properly enforced.

A: Where a de facto California Proposition 65 total concentration limit to avoid product warnings is established for a chemical based on civil settlements, companies can generally monitor compliance in the same way they do with other legally-regulated chemicals.

Prop 65 is unusual in that a chemical may be listed without a safe exposure limit being set. Even when an exposure limit is set, such as 0.5 micrograms per day for lead, how that relates to the chemical’s total content in a product must be determined. This means it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to know the listed chemicals in their products, to determine whether consumers are exposed to them and at what levels, and to inform the retailer/distributor. Risk assessment modeling may be needed to help make these determinations.

Note that the manufacturer and retailer can both be sued in California for violating Prop 65, based merely on a showing that a chemical is present in the product. It will then be up to the manufacturer and retailer to prove that there is no exposure requiring a warning to consumers.

SUBSTITUTES

A: It highly depends on what kind of stain needs to be removed. All organic solvents are potentially harmful and ventilation and personal protective equipment are essential in all stain removing activities. Chlorinated and aromatic solvents are generally more harmful than other solvents. Best practice for suppliers is to avoid stains by keeping factories clean and tidy.

CHEMICAL WASTE DISPOSAL

A: Suppliers must implement policies and procedures for waste management to minimize risk to human health and the environment. Specifically, the supplier is responsible for ensuring that waste is disposed of using responsible environmental practices utilizing best available treatment technology. To achieve this practice, the supplier must utilize licensed/permitted (subject to approval) waste transporters and disposal facilities.

INCREASED COST

A: The shared aim of all AFIRM members is to achieve total compliance with the AFIRM RSL or their individual (but similar) brand-specific restrictions. Providing that the “local chemical suppliers” can achieve compliance, then generally speaking there should be no problem. A non-complying chemical cannot be compared with a chemical that meets the required standard – therefore it is not a question of “paying a premium” because non-compliance is simply not an option.

A: Yes, trying to save cost can result in products with undesirable levels of restricted substances. This can happen when factories buy raw materials and chemicals from unreliable supply houses that do not know or will not reveal what is in them. It also happens when neither the supplier nor the buyer is willing to test raw materials and/or product.

Taking shortcuts in this manner to offer the lowest cost product carries a significant risk of much higher enforcement costs downstream. It is the responsibility of suppliers and brands alike to seek cost-effective means of assuring there is no exposure to toxic chemicals. Working together is part of the reason for an organization like AFIRM.

FAILURES

A: Products manufactured for or bought by AFIRM companies must arrive at retail in a state that complies with the AFIRM or individual company RSL requirements. The goal of the AFIRM RSL and similar brand-specific RSLs is to ensure that the product does not contain restricted substances in excess of the specified RSL limits. A company or manufacturer cannot expect to control the type of detergent or other preparation consumers may use to care for their products.

AMINES

A: Azo dyes may be manufactured using amino starting materials. Amines may be found in the end product due to either (a) residual unreacted traces of the starting chemical, or (b) reductive cleavage of the azo dye itself. In either case, minimal traces of the amine would be acceptable provided the trace concentration is below that of the brand RSL (typically 20 or 30 ppm).

In some cases, black dyestuff is a mixture of red, blue and yellow, rather than a single black dye structure. As such, any one dye component (e.g. red) could contain the azo structure that can cleave into an amine.

APEO & NPEO

A; APEO’s are risky in below listed materials / processes:

  • Detergents
  • Scouring agents
  • Wetting agents
  • Softeners
  • Emulsifier/dispersing agents for dyes and prints
  • Impregnating agents
  • Degreasing agents for leather, wool and other animal-based materials
  • Leather Finishing
  • De-gumming for silk production
  • Dyes and pigment preparations
  • Polyester padding

Knowledge about possible APEO content is achievable via a careful and comprehensive database of SDS, chemical supplier declarations and test reports. In case of doubt, one should always check with the chemical supplier first.

All processes can contain APEO, so dye mills and processors must check all dyes and chemical auxiliaries with their chemical suppliers. Examples of high-risk materials are leather, wool, silk and cotton.

A: There is existing legislation in Europe banning the use of formulations containing greater than 0.1% of NPEOs, however this is specific to production in Europe only. In 2021, a new restriction on NPEOs will come into effect in the European Union with a total concentration limit of 100 ppm in textile articles, imported or produced domestically. The AFIRM RSL and many brand-specific RSLs have included a restriction on APEOs for years.

BENZOTHIAZOLE (MBT)

A: Benzothiazole (e.g., mercaptobenzothiazole, MBT) is restricted by some AFIRM members. It is commonly used as an accelerator in the vulcanization process of rubber, and a too high concentration in rubber should be avoided. The same applies to carbamates and thiurams. The use of allergens and sensitizers should be minimized in manufacturing processes.

CHLORO ORGANIC CARRIERS

A: COCs could, due to their toxic characteristics, also be used as preservatives, insecticides and biocides. This means that raw materials such as dyes, chemicals and fibres could contain trace amounts of COCs, either from manufacturing, storage or transport. COCs are used in the manufacturing process of some dyes and could therefore remain as traces in the finished dyes. For good quality dyes from reputable sources, those traces should be low enough to meet requirements. A close communication between suppliers and chemical and raw material suppliers is essential.

CHROME VI

A: Levels above 150 ppm have been found on finished products. Chrome-III is the main tanning agent used in leather production and under certain circumstances it can be oxidized into Chrome-VI on the product. To avoid this, the tannery must use certain reducing auxiliaries during production. It is also very important to have a low free Cr-III level in the finished product to reduce the risk of Cr-VI formation. Another option is to use Chromium-free tanning.

A: When running the metals test, the Chromium result is usually included. The lab uses the Cr result to decide if they need to run Cr VI tests. There is no extra fee for the total Cr test, rather, you save money (if you do not need to test for Cr VI). Some brands do not require a metals test to screen for Cr and instead test for Cr VI specifically.

A: The chemical processes involved in leather tanning and dyeing are complex, so there is a possibility that, under certain conditions (usually heat and humidity), Cr (III) may be oxidized to Cr (VI) during sea shipment. On rare occasions a dye containing Cr (VI) may have been used, which could cause a failure without any oxidation of Cr (III) to Cr (VI).

FORMALDEHYDE

A: For textiles, you might be able to rinse out the fabric. However, for other materials such as adhesives, formaldehyde failures cannot be fixed without changing the ingredients. Consult with your brand customer before attempting to improve or remediate a formaldehyde failure since the cost of water/energy/environmental impact/time may not be worth the effort for only a small reduction in formaldehyde content.

FLAME RETARDANTS

A: Not all FR chemicals are banned by law in all countries. However, because this class of substances is composed of many which are highly toxic, global retailers may choose to take no chances and ban them entirely from their product lines. Or retailers may wish to carefully control their use by indicating that FR chemicals may not be used without specific authorization. Each AFIRM brand has its own policy regarding whether the prohibition is absolute or if there are any exceptions, since flammability legislation for certain product types or materials may necessitate the use of FR chemicals to be compliant.

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