Citing unsubstantiated claims about the antimicrobial properties of certain footbeds used in The North Face footwear line, the Environmental Protection Agency filed suit against VF Corp. this Monday in federal court, asking for almost $1 million in penalties.
At issue are 30 or so styles (about 70 SKUs) of popular footwear in the outdoor, running and mutisport categories from San Leandro, Calif.-based The North Face that use Agion topsheets in the footbeds. (Agion is the maker of a silver-based antimicrobial technology widely used in the footwear world and counts brands such as Adidas, Ecco, Columbia Timberland and Under Armour as clients.)
According to the EPA, the styles in question were available at retail between January and March 2008, with hangtags that said, “Agion antimicrobial silver agent inhibits the growth of disease-causing bacteria.” The EPA contends that North Face made similar statements online.
“The EPA maintains that The North Face made unsubstantiated public health claims regarding unregistered products and their ability to control germs and pathogens — a violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act,” the agency said in a statement.
Steve Rendle, president of The North Face and VF’s Outdoor Americas coalition, told Footwear News that the company had removed the hangtags and online statements as soon as it was contacted by the EPA, but reiterated that while the wording of the product claims was at issue, the Agion technology in the shoes was correctly used — and is still used in the same form in the product line today. “We take our product very seriously and we take our relationship with our end user even more seriously,” he said. “There was nothing incorrect or wrong with the product.”
In a statement released by VF, the company said, “The EPA has not made any claims that The North Face products are unsafe or contain any unsafe substances. Although we dispute their assertions, when we were contacted by EPA regarding their concerns in March 2008, we immediately stopped making the claims they found objectionable, removed them from hangtags and our Website and revised the product packaging accordingly.”