Chris Holcombe – No-Itch, Flame-Resistant Clothes?
Bulwark FR develops comfortable, flame-resistant workwear
Chris Holcombe VP, GM of Bulwark FR, describes their breakthrough in flame-resistant clothing. Clothing that is NOT hot, heavy, stiff or itchy. With their partner Milliken & Company, Bulwark is creating light and breathable clothes which give protection from flash fires and arc flash.
Chris Holcombe – No-Itch, Flame-Resistant Clothes?
VP-GM of Bulwark FR
Brandon Nys: Welcome to the Creative Safety Supply podcast. Visit our website at creativesafetysupply.com and click on the blog link.
Dan Clark: Hot. Heavy. Stiff. Itchy. If you’ve worn flame resistant clothing, you know what it feels like. But that’s all changing. I’m Dan Clark with the Creative Safety Supply podcast, and with us today is Chris Holcomb, the Vice President and General Manager of Bulwark FR. FR means flame resistant and now flame resistant means comfort, right Chris?
Chris Holcombe: That’s exactly right, Dan.
Dan: Well, hello and how are you?
Chris: I’m doing good today. How about yourself?
Dan: I’m well. Well, it’s taken 42 years but you’ve created a new molecule. Please tell us about it.
Chris: Well, it’s much more than just a new molecule, but that is the root of where we started. What we had to do was, kind of, start over. And what we’ve created is something called the IQ Series. And so when you look at these IQ products the first one out of the blocks is a knit shirt, and when you think of knits today in just the general market you think of polyester and performance. In the past, polyester has not been something that you could bring to the table on flame resistance. It just didn’t have a lot of compatible properties with that. And that’s really the secret sauce here.
We’ve been able to take, in conjunction with Milliken, our fabric partner, re-create that polyester so it doesn’t burn. Polyester has so many wonderful properties that it’s now enveloped into the flame resistance and creates all the things that we just talked about like breathability, and lightweight and comfort.
Dan: Well, that’s what amazes me, is because I read about this polyester being part of your product. And when I’m around a campfire, that’s the first thing to go poof. So, I know you probably can’t tell me the trade secret, but, I mean, is there a simple way to say how you changed it?
Chris: (laughs) There’s probably not a simple way for me to say it. Maybe, if you get one of Milliken’s, uh, hundred and fifty PhDs they could simplify it on down. But at its basics—when you’re talking about polyester, the chemistry around it—we created a surface bonding agent that basically allows the polyester to not burn in this particular case. So, it really is different, and new chemistry that’s never been seen before.
Dan: Is the new comfortable clothing more fire resistance or equal to the old technology?
Chris: Yes, it’s absolutely equal and, depending on the product, could outperform that product. All flame resistance product—the secondary FR market—goes through testing. This passed with flying colors for UL certification and is HRC2 qualified also. So it’s well past all those hurdles.
Dan: Well, you guys have been doing this for a long time. Can you give us a little “flame resistant clothing” history?
Chris: Bulwark’s been around, as you mentioned, for 42 years and when you look at the fabrics that have been employed in the past they are cottons that are treated. So, there’s lots of flame resistance treatment on it, which creates a heavier garment. Or, its a different type of modacrylic, like a Nomex garment, that is just going to be heavier in nature and not breathe as well. So they’ve served the market well for many, many years. And in conjunction with Milliken there’s been a breakthrough on innovation and science, and chemistry, and yarn and fabrics to really solve one of the oldest problems in flame resistance. And that’s to bring comfort to flame resistance market.
Dan: So, you’re saying adios to hot, stiff and itchy.
Chris: And were bringing breathability, mobility, softness, durability, moisture wicking, all of those items to the table and keeping the flame resistance properties and, of course, the safety that goes with that.
Dan: Tell us about your research on high heat situations and you watching workers.
Chris: We watch lots of workers in the field—whether they’re in oil and gas, or electrical companies or manufacturing 70E—we watch how they work, how they move, what they’re doing, the risk and exposures they’re putting themselves on. We were able to take that and put that working knowledge back into Milliken, and back down to the PhDs and scientists, and meld those two pieces together to create the product. That’s really how it all came together.
Dan: I understand that, ah, you found that the workers were not wearing their uniforms right, or not wearing them at all, just because they were so uncomfortable.
Chris: Ah, you see a little bit of everything out there. I mean, the vast majority, of course, do wear it because it is for their own safety. But, certainly, people roll up sleeves, for instance. Or untuck their shirts. Items like that can put you at serious risk if you’re in a flash fire in any way, shape or form. In the most extreme cases sometimes people will take off labeling and put it into other clothing.
Chris: And this totally eliminates that need.
Dan: (laughs) So they can pass their safety inspections, is that right?
Chris: That, that’s exactly what they do, which is, of course, incredibly dangerous and so we wanted to just eliminate any desire to do anything but to wear the product that’s going to protect them.
Dan: Well, that’s good. Well, let’s get to it. When will this IQ Series be in stores?
Chris: Dan, it is already out on the marketplace today. We’re in “wear test” on the B2B side. We should start seeing it in retail stores for the fall sets. So July/August timeframe, depending on the chain of stores. And looking forward to that launch.
Dan: Well, we’re recording this in spring of 2014, so those that are listening can know what the street date will be. And is the price going to be similar to what the existing fire resistant material is?
Chris: There’s a pretty wide range of pricing out there today. It will absolutely be within that range. Depending on the garment, it could be a little more, or a little less. But right smack there in the range, and will provide all these extra benefits too.
Dan: And it sounds like people would be more than glad to pay it.
Chris: That, that’s correct, and you’re going to get a worker that’s going to have heat control now, higher productivity. If we can even get people to work at a 5% increased rate, that’s going to really benefit that worker and really benefit the company. So it’s a win-win all the way around.
Dan: Yeah, it really is. Well, congratulations on this new breakthrough. This is a great thing for those men over in Hawaii, you know, those luau guys who spin those big burning batons. They can finally have a flame resistant loincloth.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. They might even put a shirt on.
Dan: (laughs) Well, listen, ah, we appreciate your time today. We’ve been talking with Chris Holcomb, the Vice President/General Manager of Bulwark FR who, with Milliken and Company, created a new molecule for comfortable fire-resistant clothing. Thanks a lot, Chris.
Chris: Thanks, Dan. You all have a great day.
Dan: I’m Dan Clark, and this is the Creative Safety Supply podcast.
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