News of Marine ban on synthetic garb no surprise to outdoor industry

News that broke on Military.com, the news and information website serving the U.S. military, that the Marine Corps commanders in Iraq had banned the wearing of synthetic clothing while conducting operations off of forward operating bases and camps wasn't a surprise to Malden Mills.
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News that broke on Military.com, the news and information website serving the U.S. military, that the Marine Corps commanders in Iraq had banned the wearing of synthetic clothing while conducting operations off of forward operating bases and camps wasn't a surprise to Malden Mills.

It is because of the severity of burns from encounters with roadside bombs and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that the ban has been instituted. The injuries caused by the intense heat caused by an explosion, and the subsequent fire in the military vehicle, has been made even worse, according to military doctors, by the synthetic fibers melting into a hot, sticky substance and then bonding to the skin.

While the Marines were issuing the ban and calling out brand names such as Under Armour, CoolMax and Nike, notably absent from the somewhat negative publicity was Polartec. Perhaps, in large part, because the company has been aware of this issue for a number of years and working in tandem with the military to find solutions.

SNEWS® was informed that Malden Mills was asked to develop no melt, no drip base-layer fabrics a little over 18 months ago. The company currently has a number of these products in development that include various combinations of Nomex fibers, wool, cotton and acrylic (although the absence of a good domestic acrylic source may preclude the use of this fiber due to the Barry Amendment).

"About a dozen products are in testing and once we narrow down the best option (with the involvement and approval of the U.S. Military), they will be commercialized," said Michael Spillane, CEO for Malden Mills. "These base-layer products will join a suite of other flame-resistant Polartec fabrics already in use by the military -- including Polartec Power Stretch, Polartec Thermal FR and Polartec Power Shield (all featuring primarily Nomex fibers)."

Of note, the Polartec Power Stretch with Nomex is an active wicking base-layer fabric -- albeit too warm for summer in Iraq. And it is the heat of Iraq, with days that hover around 130 degrees F, that prompts most soldiers to opt for synthetic fibers for moisture wicking and quick-dry performance, despite the risk of horrendous burns from IEDs and roadside bombs.

Spillane told SNEWS® that while Polartec is very close to being able to provide a number of options to military personnel, a lot of it comes down to personal taste -- cost versus gains -- a matter of balancing safety, comfort, price and wicking.

While there is some implication, mostly due to consumer publications picking up only part of this story, that this is a complete military ban on synthetics that is simply not true. A number of companies, including Malden Mills, provide technical, polyester-based clothing for the U.S. Military. Soldiers today have more comfortable, high performance clothing than they have ever had before. Returning to basic cotton or wool while serving in Iraq just isn't an option considering the extreme conditions the solders face on a daily basis.

And believe it, the military is very passionate about comfort, as evidenced by the bulletin board on Military.com where troops immediately began to sound off on the ban -- click here to read.

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