Hazardous chemicals have been found in designer children's wear by eight upmarket brands, including Louis Vuitton, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana.
The findings by Greenpeace will surprise some parents who try to buy nothing but the best for their children and believe the high cost and big names are a guarantee of quality.
Greenpeace tested 27 samples of designer clothes for children sold in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Prices of the items ranged from HK$1,000 to HK$3,300.
Sixteen returned positive results for at least one of three hazardous chemicals: nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), polyfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and a phthalate plasticiser.
The products of five other brands that gave positive results were bought on the mainland.
"It raises a question as to whether these products' claims to be 'made in Italy or France' are completely true," Greenpeace campaigner Kate Lin Pui-yee said yesterday.
"We know many outsource highly polluting processes to China or Southeast Asia."
One pair of Louis Vuitton sport shoes recorded an NPE level of 370 milligrams per kg, 0.037 per cent, while a T-shirt by Dolce & Gabbana contained 6.1mg per kilogram, or 0.00061 per cent.
The figures were well inside European Union recommendations. It states NPE levels should not exceed 0.1 per cent of a product's weight.
But Greenpeace warned that the very presence of such chemicals raised concerns.
It said at these levels the chemicals did not pose a very high health risk directly, but, when leached into the environment from factories or the clothes, they could build up in waterways and contaminate the food chain.
A spokeswoman for Louis Vuitton Hong Kong said all the brand's shoes were made in the Veneto region of Italy "in the respect of the highest standards of working conditions and of the environment".
But some textile and material used for these products may have been sourced in other parts of the world, she added.
"We aim to ensure that our suppliers' production processes and operations fulfill the highest health and environment requirements."
Versace and Dolce & Gabbana declined to comment on the findings.
Last month, Greenpeace said it had found high NPE levels in the children's wear of brands including Gap, Adidas, Burberry and Disney.
The manufacturers responded by questioning the scientific basis of its tests and saying their goods complied with health and safety laws.
University of Hong Kong toxicology professor Kenneth Leung Mei-yee said NPEs were found in detergents and were most likely used in the washing process of the garments during manufacture, while PFCs were commonly used in fibre coatings.
"NPE pollution is quite serious in the Pearl River Delta," he said. "The chemicals are bio- accumulative and can harm coastal areas."
Leung said there was no conclusive evidence that NPEs or PFCs could cause significant harm to humans unless in large doses, but studies had demonstrated that the chemicals affected the endocrine and reproductive systems of animals, and might cause cancer.
Children's habit of putting things in their mouths increased the risk, Greenpeace's Lin said.
"Luxury brands thrive on their exclusivity and quality … This report shows [the brands] are deceiving customers with toxic lies," she said.
Lin urged consumers to "be smart" and choose products without heavy dyes, bright colours or plastic prints.
The environmental group is calling on major apparel brands to achieve a "zero discharge level" of all hazardous chemicals by 2020.