The future of FR is here, and it's just getting more comfortable. In the last few years alone, the FR fabric industry has made tremendous strides in creating fiber blends that provide the same or improved levels of protection with weights and textures approaching the feel of athleisure wear. One of the most impactful advancements has been in crafting more breathable fabrics. You may recall from our post about the components of comfort in FR clothing that breathability was at the top of the list. In this post, we’ll delve deeper into breathability to discuss how we’re working to achieve maximum breathability in FR fabrics and why we believe investing in comfort is investing in safety
What Is Breathability?
We’re all familiar with how breathability feels—we certainly know when we’re wearing something that doesn’t breathe. Less breathable garments trap our body heat inside our clothes, encapsulating us in a stifling sauna of our own making. Beyond being uncomfortable, for workers laboring in hot conditions, the resulting heat stress can be life threatening. Breathability describes the ability for air to permeate a fabric; in this case, for the heated air hovering around your skin to escape into the surrounding environment and cooler air to pass back through, allowing your body to regulate its internal temperature by shedding heat more effectively. A garment that is breathable works with your body’s natural process, not against it.
How Have FR Fabrics Become More Breathable?
To illustrate how FR fabrics are made more breathable, it helps to remember what we mean when we talk about fabrics versus fibers. Fibers are the building blocks of fabrics. We refer to inherent FR fibers when we’re talking about fibers that are made from a material that is inherently flame resistant.
Some aspects of comfort come from the individual fibers used in crafting a fabric blend. For example, the moisture-wicking ability of a fabric is created by using fibers that pull water away from the body and push it out through the fabric where it can evaporate. Breathability is addressed by the fabric design and is a result of both the tightness of the yarns themselves and the tightness of the weave structure as those yarns are woven together. The tighter the yarns and the weave, the less breathable the fabric. By creating some porosity in the fabric with looser yarns and physical space amongst the fibers, you allow air to permeate more easily.
We’ve been working on increasing breathability in FR clothing for a while now, testing different blends for the last decade or so to find the perfect combination of inherent FR fibers that are lightweight and can be breathable in their weave without sacrificing any level of protection. Just in the last three to five years, TenCate Protective Fabrics is proud to have led the charge in formulating fabric options that are not only more breathable than ever, but more protective. It’s our number one component of comfort for a reason: breathability is a huge factor in the overall comfort of a garment.
Why Is Breathability So Important?
Making FR fabrics more breathable goes hand in hand with our mission to make PPE workwear safer for the end user. How does breathability increase safety? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you’re only as safe as you are comfortable. Workers who are sweltering in their suffocating uniforms are far more likely to make an unsafe adjustment to let off a little steam, and as soon as their shirt sleeves are rolled up or their buttons are undone, they’re at greater risk for an incident. We also believe that wearers deserve to have protective workwear they are happy to wear. Safety shouldn’t come at the cost of comfort, and now it doesn’t have to.
How to Judge Breathability
Now that you know why breathability is so important and that there are more breathable options on the market than ever before, how do you take advantage of the latest advances when it’s time to order your next round of PPE clothing? Wear trials are where you learn how your team feels in each candidate garment. We talked about how to run a perfect wear trial previously in this post, but to recap, gathering feedback is the most important step of an effective wear trial. Including a question about the breathability of the garments will get your wearers thinking about the options’ relative comfort and help ensure that you choose something for your team that offers both up-to-date protection and the next level of available comfort in FR fabrics.
Got questions about the latest FR fabric options and what might be right for your workplace’s needs? TenCate Protective Fabrics’ experts are always available to chat about your safety strategy and help you stay in the loop on what’s new and in the pipeline for FR fabrics. Reach out here.