By Brad Sipe, Contributor
There is a movement within the Industrial market for flame resistant (FR) apparel to be more stylish, functional, and performance driven. Workers are transitioning from work to date night, working out, and even doing chores around the house in their FR, and as such they are demanding performance. There are more moisture wicking options of FR fabrics than there are in the consumer market, but the problem is most American workers don’t understand the technology.
What are high-performance fabrics?
High performance is a term used to describe moisture-wicking technology. These specialized fabrics have been around for over twenty years. They were created to boost an athlete’s performance in extreme outdoor situations, keeping them drier and cooler in hot conditions, and warmer and drier in cold conditions. The challenge for many is understanding the science behind the fabric. The world’s top athlete’s wear high-performance fabrics to optimize their performance and have a better concentration on the task in front of them.
Moisture wicking’s history started with a synthetic fiber (like polyester) with a chemical finish applied to allow moisture to spread. Eventually the finish would wash out and the fabric lost its wicking abilities. The tag on garments will reveal the blend of fibers. A blend of 100% of any fiber along with claims of moisture wicking identifies the presence of a chemical finish. Check to see if the manufacturer guarantees wicking for life of the garment― chances are they don’t.
A New Generation of Fabrics
Today, the next generation of high-performance fabrics have a combination of hydrophobic (water-hating) and hydrophilic (water-loving) fibers. Examples of hydrophobic fibers include modacrylic, aramids, para-aramids, while hydrophilic fibers include rayon and lyocell. The combination of these two fibers blended together ensure permanent moisture wicking for the life of the garment. The big question then becomes: what is the optimal blend of these two fibers that create a soft hand while performing the best?
Data has proven that the optimal blend is when both numbers are closer together, such as a 60/40 blend, this allows for better face (skin side) pick up and transport. If you don’t have enough hydrophilic fiber the fabric won’t absorb well, and if you don’t have enough hydrophobic the fabric will not push the moisture to the front as well. It is the balance of the blend that creates a high-performance product.
When choosing a high-performance FR fabric based on a number alone, be wary of marketers. Ask for the data; it is available. There are different blends of high-performance fabrics and they all perform differently. Smart shoppers look at the tags to determine the blend of fabrics and what high performance is. The same high-performance fabrics that the world’s top athletes wear, is available in this market!
There must be a blend of hydrophobic and hydrophilic to have permanent moisture wicking. Most consumer performance products are 100% polyester with a finish. Look at the tags as they reveal everything.
These performance fabrics allow for garments to be lighter weight and layering to become the norm. Look for a complete layering system to allow for maximum protection, comfort, and performance. The system must wick moisture throughout each garment or it will not work.
The last characteristic for a successful FR program is style and fit. Not all FR garments are styled alike and not every manufacturer cuts a garment alike. Specify the fabric first then the manufacturer of that fabric. Chances are your FR program will be less expensive and your garments will last longer. Your employees and your industrial athletes will be more comfortable, better protected, and more focused on the task in front of them. ESW
Brad Sipe is the Director of Business Development for Lakeland Industries. He has been in the FR market for over 10 years 15 years in the apparel industry. Sipe is also a speaker throughout the country on heat stress and the relationship with FR fabrics (Lakeland.com)