So Hot Right Now: Flame-Resistant Fashion in the Military

Green grunge military background

(DGIwire) – The armed forces as a hotbed of fashion? The notion might strike some as unlikely, but in a way it is true—at least where flame-retardant (FR) uniforms are concerned. That’s one revelation contained in a new book—Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach—that was recently spotlighted in the New York Post.

The book introduces readers to a textile technologist who is dubbed a “flame goddess” due to her job of testing FR fabrics. According to the Post, she starts by heating a single strand to 1,500°F to test for chemicals that soldiers run a risk of inhaling. If the fabric is nontoxic, it then gets tested, often with a device actually called the Big Scary Laser. Along with the device holding the swatch, the laser replicates the effects of an explosive in the field, including how a blast forces clothing against the skin, which can heighten the heat transfer and worsen the burn.

The book goes on to note that one current material for FR Army uniforms is called Defender M. Mostly rayon, it is designed to balloon away from the body as it burns. This lessens the possibility of scorched skin but the material tears easily, so the search for more effective materials is ongoing. Readers also meet a swimsuit designer who describes FR uniforms as “so hot right now” and who is developing a new sniper base suit using a material called Cordura that is both flame-retardant and keeps moisture from seeping through.

“The U.S. military has long recognized the need to supply its troops with FR uniforms and has been a chief driver of innovation in this area,” says Nick Clark, CEO of Alexium International, a specialty chemicals manufacturer. “The growing recognition of the importance of environmentally friendly solutions is leading to technological breakthroughs.”

Alexium develops next-generation FRs that balance fire protection with ecological safety. Its processes and products are intentionally designed to meet exacting requirements for safety and environmental sustainability, often exceeding industry standards. While its products feature an environmentally friendly mix of chemicals, they remain lightweight and durable. For example, one of its products, Alexiflam NF, is a reactive, halogen-free, phosphorus-based product that can stand up to 50+ washes and is specifically designed for cotton and cotton blends often found in products such as workwear, apparel and upholstery.

Alexium also maintains a relationship with the military; the chemical solution it has specifically designed for its military division is called Alexiflam FR, a durable and ecofriendly chemical formulation that works well with nylon/cotton blends, which are typical for products like military uniforms. In addition to uniforms, Alexium’s chemistries have been developed to protect military tents, backpacks, tactical gear and accessories.

“FR military uniforms might not ever win any serious fashion awards but they prove their worth if they keep our men and women in uniform protected from flame and toxic chemicals,” adds Clark.

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