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For workers that depend upon exceptional performance-wear to do their jobs safely and comfortably, using certified protective wear and workwear is a basic requirement. As sustainable fibers prove their worth in demanding work environments from metal working to mobility, global organizations are now considering a wholescale push toward sustainable workwear.
To explain the exceptional performance demands required of workwear, what challenges some industries face when considering sustainable alternatives, and how LENZING™ branded lyocell fibers are alleviating these concerns, we are joined by Oliver Spöcker, Commercial Director of Protective Wear & Workwear at Lenzing AG, for the next installment of our “TENCEL™ Insights” Series.
Q: What are some of the challenges currently faced by organizations when adopting sustainable protective wear and workwear?
Oliver: Protective wear must operate safely in incredibly challenging conditions where there is a high risk of flash fires, electric ARC’s, sparks or molten metal splashes which cause regular clothing to catch fire and continue to burn after ignition. For this reason, the main objective for companies when purchasing protective clothing must be the safety of their employees. Healthcare is another segment that has high workwear expectations. Given that their gear is often required to be used for extended periods of time, comfort and durability are major considerations in purchasing. Protective wear and workwear also must remain fresh and presentable after multiple washes, robustness is a key factor as most of the time professional industrial laundries undertake this service .
Workwear is manufactured from synthetic materials like polyester, mainly due to its cost effectiveness and durability to withstand harsh working environments. However, polyester garments are less comfortable than natural or cellulosic alternatives and are harmful for the environment during production, usage, and eventual disposal at the end of the garment’s life.
Protective wear is mainly made from synthetic high performance fibers, such as Aramid fibers, which are flame resistant and durable, but offer very little comfort to the wearer. In harsher working conditions and unfavorable climates, workers are disadvantaged instead of wholly protected by their gear.
On the other hand, sustainable cellulosic solutions for protective wear and workwear offer better comfort for workers and are becoming increasingly available on the market for a variety of end use applications in different industries. Organizations can benefit from sustainable apparel that upholds stringent performance requirements, provide added comfort and contribute to an eco-friendlier future.
Q: How is Lenzing’s approach to protective wear different from other brands?
Oliver: We have been working in the protective workwear segment for many years with our revolutionary eco-friendly LENZING™ branded flame-resistant LENZING™ FR fibers. Our protective wear-oriented fibers are designed for added worker safety across a range of applications, from firefighting, military and police applications to heavy equipment industries like oil & gas and metal working or foundries. We have also seen use cases in utilities, state grids and power suppliers.
Together with our customers and partners in the industry we have developed unique layering concepts to offer complete solutions, combining heat protection with improved physiological performance and enhanced comfort. Known as the “layers” concept, our LENZING™ FR fibers are used to create protective wear with direct skin contact like underwear, hoods and glove liners, in addition to mid layers like coveralls, shirts and trousers, and outer layers like jackets and over trousers. Our LENZING™ FR fibers can also be used in facecloths, thermal/moisture barriers and fleece jackets.
What’s more, our innovative LENZING™ FR fibers can be blended with merino wool, modacrylic fibers, high tenacity nylon, or with synthetic high-performance fibers such as aramids to create garments that are perfectly optimized to protect workers in elevated-risk situations. It also offers superior performance benefits over traditional protective wear fibers like synthetic aramid fibers. This includes moisture management, wickability and breathability to support natural body temperature regulation. The wickability and breathability inherent to LENZING™ FR fibers helps to reduce the temperature of the wearer leading to better comfort and higher performance in demanding situations. For example, our tests show added performance amounts to 16 watts, meaning wearers can run for one minute longer, crucial in intense situations like fires or military scenarios where every minute can save lives.
Furthermore, clothing made with LENZING™ FR fibers can reduce the risk of second and third degree burns by up to 30%, compared to traditional protective wear. In particular, the chances of cracking or “break open” of LENZING™ FR-based fiber fabrics are drastically reduced or even prevented compared to synthetic high-performance fibers like meta-Aramid fibers, meaning protective wear based on LENZING™ FR will last longer, even under prolonged harsh conditions.
Q: What are some of the sustainability benefits for LENZING™ FR-based protective wear?
Oliver: LENZING™ FR fibers provide incredible sustainability benefits over traditional alternatives, sourced from sustainable and renewable forests. We also adopt the latest innovative technology to create fibers that will stand the test of time. Eco Color technology, for example, ensures long-lasting color fastness and better light fastness even after repeated industrial laundering or even after exposure to high UV doses e.g. sunlight in tropical climates.
We have optimized our production process for scalable sustainable production. Our spun-dyed LENZING™ FR fibers offer significant savings of water and energy from cradle to finished product. This results in a 50% reduction in energy and water use and a 60% reduction in carbon footprint during production.
Finally, LENZING™ FR fibers are fully biodegradable, meaning they can revert back to nature at the end of the product’s useful life.
Q: Which benefits do LENZING™ branded fibers offer for workwear applications?
Oliver: Especially our LENZING™ branded Lyocell fibers are a sustainable choice without sacrificing performance. The lyocell process is well known and honored for its high recovery rate of water and solvent ensured by the closed-loop system, while the lyocell fibers with their high tenacity profile allow repeated industrial washes meeting customers durability expectations.
Compared to synthetic fibers and even to cotton, LENZING™ Lyocell fibers absorbs significant more moisture ensuring excellent wearing comfort, which is important for several working environments.
Q: Understandably, collaborations with workwear and protective wear industry partners are different than the customary retailer. How has Lenzing been working with co-brand partners in these segments to produce eco-friendly clothing?
Oliver: In technical applications like protective wear and workwear, it is important to establish a high level of mutual trust with partners. The most crucial part of the value chain is weaving mills for workwear and protective fabrics. They are responsible for innovating tailormade solutions for the end-user, acquire critical and expensive certification processes at certified testing laboratories, and take full accountability for their products. At Lenzing, we work closely with technical weavers to identify the ideal fiber blends for each use-case to achieve superior comfort, protection, durability and environmental responsibility.
Therefore, versatility is always the top of mind criteria when designing our LENZING™ branded industrial fibers, enabling blends to be optimized for any situation in the workwear and protective wear industries. We hope to continue expanding our valuable network of partners and develop new innovative products that are both customer and end-user oriented. Their success is our success!