Extreme durability testing
CORDURA’s Cindy McNaull describes dragging people behind race cars to test abrasion resistance as well as other crazy experiments.
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The average marketing director doesn’t come armed with a degree in chemical and biomedical engineering. But that background has proved the perfect fit for Cindy McNaull of CORDURA—a major player in the outdoor industry that engineers fabric and textiles to help apparel and gear withstand the harshest conditions.
While durability is still a top demand for the industry—especially because keeping gear around for more than a few seasons has sustainability benefits—consumers are also demanding more pieces that flow seamlessly between their outdoor and daily lives. McNaull shares how that’s all translating into the latest fabric technologies and styles for today and beyond.
What are the biggest trends you are seeing today in outdoor active fabrics and textiles?
Cindy McNaull: Today’s outdoor consumers are relying more on strong, functional pieces that can deliver when it counts—extraordinary pieces for everyday living with engineered durability. The yoga pant is a good example: As originally designed for the studio, it was fine, but it wasn’t exactly suited to last very long outdoors or at the workplace. Still, people wanted that same comfort from the studio in their everyday lives. Now, newer constructions and higher tenacities in targeted high-wear zones make that possible in a product that lasts.
There’s also been a focus on eco-efficient and responsible manufacturing. We’re especially seeing this trend in reimagined classics such as wool, denim, and other cotton-rich fabrics, like linen, blended with high-strength fiber technologies for what we at CORDURA refer to as “performance naturals.” In today’s fast-paced and chaotic world, consumers have a desire to get back to the basics and embrace simplicity.
So, is the fast-fashion trend on the way out?
CM: We see people looking to streamline their lives, and part of that involves reducing the amount of clothing they buy. They’re demanding fabrics that are in it for the long haul, fabrics based on a shared belief in our slogan that “sustainability begins with products that last.” Those pieces are also versatile in that the consumer doesn’t need to have one piece for one end use. So, part of this is driven by social consciousness, not wanting to over-consume, and part is the new fabric technologies that allow these pieces to do more and transition from activity to activity. A good example in the outdoor industry is wool. You saw a large appetite for it from a performance and fashion angle, but there were limitations in the product. People came to us and said, “Help us make wool last longer.”
How does Cordura conduct durability testing?
CM: Most of the testing we do is in the lab and based on international testing standards for abrasion, tear and snag resistance, and water repellency. For example, in the Martindale test we assess the durability of a fabric against rotating sandpaper of certain grits under certain weights. We also have our brand customers do real-life situation tests to prove out what we’ve shown in the lab. Some of our customers can get pretty creative, like the European workwear brand Blaklader. To test the abrasion resistance of a pair of pants, they had a guy on his knees get dragged by a GT3 Cup racing car. In a test for tear resistance, they hooked up a pair of their pants to a crane, and it took the weight of three cars on the other end before the pants tore apart.
What do you think might be the next big thing in textiles and fabrics?
CM: Future generations of fabric innovations will combine the comfort and aesthetics of familiar materials with the ‘hidden science’ of tomorrow. Expect to see more self-regulating thermal pieces that adjust to your current body heat and level of activity. There will also be a lot more body mapping of different fabrics and materials, in many cases, with a seamless construction as if it were one piece of fabric. You’re already seeing this in hosiery and knitted footwear.
A lot of those advances have come because more machines are making clothes now. How do you see that aspect changing things going forward?
CM: Currently, you’re seeing just limited production runs [with the new machine technologies], but that will change. As the machinery gets better and more popular, the price points are going to come down. Then, when you don’t have to worry about all the infrastructure to support production, it increases the portability of production—to bring it all closer to home or wherever the product is being sold, which cuts down on transit and lead times, and increases sustainability.
This article originally appeared in Day 2 of The Daily at Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show (Winter 2018).