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Protective textiles: not an oxymoron

My Take | December 4, 2015 | By:

When the average person thinks of safety and protective products, I doubt that he or she thinks “fabric.” Used for clothing, bedding and curtains, in their world, fabrics are soft, flexible and lightweight–not the sort of material that could protect from fire or hazardous chemicals, much less a speeding bullet.


I suspect if a reporter asked people on the street about this, they would explain it by suggesting that something other than a fabric is used inside the bulletproof vest, or some magic solution coats the firefighter’s suit. It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around protective fabrics. There is, in fact, a “magic solution” coating that firefighter’s suit (or the magic solution is coating the fibers in the fabrics used to make the suit), and that “something-other-than-a-fabric” in a bulletproof vest is extraordinary, but it is still a fabric in our advanced textiles world.

Andrew Park’s articles this month (“Better ballistics,” Part I and II) provide a good overview of ballistics materials that are changing the way personal protection is made—and, yes, it will stop a speeding bullet. Furthermore, the garments made from fabrics using truly extraordinary new technology will also be “soft, flexible and lightweight.”

Firefighters garments can be among the most complex, given the extreme conditions under which they must work. We’ll be running a special feature (“Hazardous duty”) later this month on personal FR protection.

But it’s not enough to provide superior protection and comfort in today’s textile market; the entire value chain must also think about environmental concerns—both those that are regulated by law and those that reflect the preferences of their customers and end users. Debra Cobb’s article “Safety first” discusses the challenge facing the industry to provide durable water repellency (DWR) that is also oil and chemical resistant, as well as comfortable. With the ban of C8 (used in the most effective DWRs), the industry is hard at work on a more environmentally acceptable solution.

Well-known consumer brands are active in the safety and protective market, too, so I suppose that one could speculate about what we could see on the racks at the mall … eventually.

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