Fashion trends aren’t just for undernourished waifs walking the runways of Paris and New York City. They’re for the linemen and industrial workers making sure our homes have electricity and heat against the elements. OK, maybe that is a stretch, but the FR workwear market is in a state of evolution as an influx of advanced fabrics and new garment designs create new clothing systems that are a far cry from the inflexible, scratchy, boxy pants and “Michelin Man” jackets that were standard for many years. Here are four evolving trends in the marketplace:
Trend #1: Athleisure sets its sights on the job site
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard of the term “athleisure.” Athleisure is a trend in which clothing designed for athletic activity is worn outside of the gym to go to the office, hang out with friends or other social occasions. At its core, the athleisure trend stems from people wanting more versatility from their clothing. Top designers at workwear companies, just like those at outdoor apparel brands, are now designing fashionable garments specifically built for comfort, durability, and performance for any occasion.
A main catalyst behind this trend for FR workwear is the broad selection of market proven, FR fabrics that are now available. Historically, only woven garments made from cotton-rich or 100% aramid fabrics were available to satisfy the strict FR compliance measures in place for North America. Today, both wovens and engineered performance knit fabrics are available for use in a wider range of clothing applications.
Choice is a great thing for consumers and brands are filling unmet market needs with new garment designs made from innovative performance FR fabrics. Multiple fabrics are even being used together to make “hybrid” garments to achieve some of the known benefits of clothing layering within a single garment. Industrial workers can now comfortably wear clothing systems that keep them dry, create warmth without weight and protection from the elements outside while also accommodating their full range of physical activity and motion while performing their job.
Trend #2: Style matters
An underrated aspect of FR workwear — and often goes unsaid — among the industry’s tough men and women — is the importance of fashion. Europeans — ever the fashion innovators — are ahead of the North American market in terms of delivering trendier silhouettes and more color choice within their workwear clothing lines. The U.S. market has been closing that gap due to the increased sales growth of FR at retail and through online purchases. Effective retail merchandising and promotion is geared to promote equally both clothing function and fashion, where FR and performance are required and modern trending style is desired.
A side benefit of stylish FR workwear is that intuitively we know it helps ensure PPE compliance because people want to wear it. Safety professionals can feel more confident individuals will wear their FR clothing when working, even when nobody is watching, if their FR workwear looks good and feels good. Employees should look professional in their work uniforms with clothing choices that offer the trifecta of good garment fit, garment function (FR protection and suitable for the task) and style.
Trend #3: Women step up to the fore
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represent nearly 23% of utilities workers and 29% of manufacturing employees. This figure is expected to continue to rise over time and is the reason why more and more FR brands are creating clothing lines aimed directly at this growing market. Ultimately, it all comes down to fit, comfort, and performance. It is high time women experience the same comfort and protection of their male counterparts rather than swimming in boxy clothing.
Trend #4: Ecommerce trends come to the worksite
In the past, safety managers would decide what FR garments workers could purchase and wear. Garments were then typically delivered to the individual as part of a rental program or managed account where an employee could spend a fixed amount of money on a limited number of clothing choices. This process was fine in the past, and is still widely used today, because there were few clothing choices and no easy way for an individual to buy an FR garment even if he or she had authorization to do so.
Now, PPE is available from both PPE distributors and direct from many clothing brands thanks to the Internet and increase in FR work wear retail stores. While it’s a bit scary to think about handing over control of PPE selection to employees, corporate safety leaders need to adapt to the changing market and help guide individuals so they make informed FR clothing choices. Involving employees in the garment selection process and giving them leeway to make their own purchase decisions based on company established guidelines is a proven method to increase PPE compliance rates.
The industry is receiving a well-deserved upgrade in terms of fabric and garment innovations that will be protecting some of the hardest working men and women in this great country. Modern FR workwear garments can help reduce fatigue, keep workers comfortable during miserable weather and most importantly, save lives. And oh yeah, make you look like an industrial athlete or a hip fashion trendsetter if you so choose.