What's Favorable and Fitting in Workwear and Protective Clothing Fabrics?

June 1, 2008
EHS Today spoke to Tim Anson, Ph.D., who is the European business manager for the CORDURA brand, which is highly resistant to abrasions, tears and scuffs.

EHS Today spoke to Tim Anson, Ph.D., who is the European business manager for the CORDURA brand, which is highly resistant to abrasions, tears and scuffs. The fabric is used in a wide range of products, including boots, military wear and performance apparel, as well as luggage and backpacks. CORDURA fabric is the registered trademark of INVISTA for durable fabrics. INVISTA is an integrated fibers and polymers company that sells its products worldwide. It operates four major businesses: Apparel, Intermediates, Performance Surfaces and Materials and Polymer and Resins.

With more than 20 years of experience in the nylon fiber industry, Anson handles workwear and other key CORDURA brand markets, such as military equipment, footwear and automotive fabrics. Prior to assuming his duties at INVISTA, Anson developed his textile expertise in the product development and customer technical service departments at E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. and ICI Fibres, a division of Imperial Chemical Industries PLC.

EHS: What trends do you see in fabrics in protective clothing and workwear?

TA: One of the trends we are seeing is what we call multi-functional fabrics that meet a variety of requirements. So you might have an inherently flame-retardant fabric, with 10 percent nylon in it for durability. The same fabric may have an anti-stat grid in there or an anti-static fiber built into that system. It can be tapped on finished. It might be high-visibility dyed for chemical protection. It's a multi-functional fabric that offers flame retardancy, anti-stat, high-visibility and chemical resistance all in one fabric.

So if you were a purchasing manager of a big oil company with a lot of oil rigs, you want your workers on those oil rigs to be wearing highly functional clothes. You'd want the clothing to be anti-stat protected, inherently flame retardant, and you'd perhaps want the outfits to be high visibility. In addition, you'd want a chemical barrier for spills built into the clothing. So all four of those EN norms or U.S. standards need to be met in one fabric and that's definitely a trend we are seeing.

EHS: Could you please tell us about the durability of CORDURA fabric in workwear and protective clothing?

TA: Work wear is basically clothing that doesn't necessarily have to meet a (safety) norm, but has to be very functional. In addition, workwear clothing should offer good value for the money, which often translates to durability. In order to make clothing last longer under extreme wear conditions, workwear manufacturers have begun developing garments that provide added protection in the areas prone to wear — knees, elbows and pockets, for example. CORDURA fabric is used on the knees, on the hems, and pockets of workwear garments. And we've got a lot of information from the garment brands that use CORDURA fabric; it shows that the fabric can double the life of that pair of trousers. So the product may cost 50 percent more, but may last twice as long, so it's very good value for the money.

EHS: In protective clothing and workwear, do Europe and the United States differ in the kinds of innovations being introduced in those product areas? Or, do researchers on both continents go about developing innovations at the same pace?

TA: The big difference at the moment is in the workwear market. The European trend is for more “imagewear” — for people who work in the service industry like say Wal-Mart or warehousing or logistics like truck drivers. Employers are increasingly supplying clothes to employees. Businesses want durability. And that's where the CORDURA fabric reinforcements come in, to make the garments last longer. Other workers recently falling under this trend of “imagewear” include truck drivers, carpenters and electricians, just to name a few. The reason is that they are beginning to interface more with the consumer so they want to look more professional, yet they still need work wear that is functional and durable.

I might mention that it's the small- to medium-size businesses that tend to be buying “imagewear” products right now in Europe.

The trend towards a fashion look is also now being seen in accessories like safety boots made with CORDURA fabric. Today, we see that the safety boot market is looking more and more like the hiking/trekking boot market. The only difference is that the sole maybe has ANSI puncture resistance and that there's a metal toe cap in the boot. So it's basically a reinforced trekking boot.

EHS: Are there any trends in workwear in the United States that might be different from Europe, or are the trends similar?

TA: The big difference is that “imagewear” in Europe has taken a very strong hold and is growing in value and market share vs. basic wear.

We haven't yet seen the trend in America, but we believe that it will eventually happen. In the European model, it's the Scandinavians, the Swedish and the Danish that have primarily led that design of “imagewear” in the workwear market. These nations are now exporting to the UK, and to Germany, France and Spain; very successfully, I might add. And so the European market is following that trend of “imagewear” with durability.

Now some of the Scandinavian producers have started to look at the U.S. market. Brands like Dickies Workwear in the UK produce a very specific European range using CORDURA fabric. Now if that's successful, I could hopefully see someone like Dickies try to determine whether that's also going to be successful in the United States. The bottom line is that America is well behind Europe in the “imagewear” market, but hopefully it will gradually grow and catch up.

EHS: How do the U.S. and European growth rates compare for the imagewear/workwear marketplace?

TA: Globally, the workwear market is growing about 10 percent to 11 percent a year. What “imagewear” is doing within workwear, we don't yet know because it is a new trend. However, there are hints that “imagewear” is growing at an even faster rate, because it's growing at the expense of basicwear. So globally I would estimate that there's double-digit growth in the “imagewear” market.

EHS: Any advice you might have for manufacturing safety directors and managers as they select workwear, PPE or “imagewear” for their workforces?

TA: The bottom line is that the more you have to spend on your PPE because you've got inherent flame retardancy, you've got anti-static, you've got high visibility in the garment, then the more you want to spend on protecting that garment and making it durable.

EHS Today also had a chance to speak with the Bill Colven, global business director for the CORDURA brand, and Jon Heard, global business director, Nylon Staple and Government.

EHS: Do you see any trends in protective clothing fabrics, for example, increased protection?

JH: There are a couple of different protective clothing market segments. One where you are seeing some innovation is in the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) standard 70E-2000, which covers arc flash protection. The standard's aim is to protect electricians from arc flashes, and it's a growing market, because the NFPA has recommended that electricians be more protected.

The trend is for the fabrics to be more protective against arc flashes. Another important trend is to become lighter in weight, so fabrics and garments that weigh 7.5 oz. per square yard are being reduced to 6.5 oz. with some of the new fabrics. The addition of nylon 420 denier to the fabric increases the protection and increases the comfort because it's lighter weight. So you can get better compliance from a wear standpoint, and the garment is more durable.

EHS: Are there any innovations in fabrics that the PPE or workwear marketplaces will see in the next few years?

BC: One likely trend that we'll see in multifunctional fabrics — in garments that have some of the characteristics that we've already described — [is] the addition of anti-microbial treatments that keep odors from forming on garments. If a worker is wearing a garment for an extended period and is sweating, the garment can still maintain good odor-free characteristics with this kind of treatment. These treatments, along with the addition of stain- or soil-resistance treatments, are other features that can be added to the fabric and the final garment.

Michael Keating is the research editor for EHS Today. He can be reached at [email protected].

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