It is a long way – and a lot of science – from a Brock laboratory to the store shelf at Mark’s Work Wearhouse.
Stephen Cheung, professor of Kinesiology and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics, can attest to that.
Cheung and his associates are testing new clothing materials for Mark’s Work Wearhouse under a $25,000 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Engage grant. The goal of the research is to better understand the insulation and moisture management of different clothes during actual use in the cold.
“The NSERC grant is specifically for industry to work with academics, to forge new relationships, not fund ongoing projects,” Cheung said. “Mark’s approached us last year to see how they might work with us.”
Iain Summers, general marketing manager, Product Innovation and Industrial Wear for Mark’s, is happy to be partnered with Cheung.
“We are very pleased to be working with Stephen (Dr. Freeze, as I call him) on better understanding the properties and performance of the fabrics and garments we build for Canadians in dealing with our sometimes harsh winters,” Summers said. “Stephen will help us make cold weather garments at Marks the best in the market.”
The Brock team includes:
- Mike Taber, a postdoctoral fellow from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation
- Geoff Hartley and Roger Montgomery, respectively PhD and MSc students in Applied Health Sciences
- Jesse DeSimone, a third year Kinesiology undergrad at Brock
Cheung has worked with the Canadian military, Summer and Winter Olympic teams, and the Toronto Fire Service, among others. He’s worked on everything from survival suits to team uniforms to improve performance in extreme environments.
“With Mark’s, they want to be able to better design clothing for the work environment,” said Cheung. “Especially clothing that maintains insulation but is breathable. This study should lead to new materials and new constructs.”
The challenge is that winter clothing used during both rest and exercise poses two distinct and possibly contradictory design requirements.
Firstly, when at rest, it’s critical to maintain a high degree of thermal insulation in order to minimize heat loss from the body to the external environment.
Secondly, when exercising, it’s important that clothing wicks sweat to the external clothing layer in order to maximize sweat evaporation. Because of the thick and bulky clothing, a significant amount of sweat drips off the skin and becomes trapped within the fabric, decreasing the insulation of the clothing.
Therefore, when exercising in the cold, a large amount of sweat can build up in the clothing, causing both body temperature to increase during exercise and also greater rates of cooling when inactive.
Most such tests are also done with dry fabric, which does not represent the clothing in actual use with sweat or condensation. What is missing in industrial testing is the controlled testing of actual clothing worn during functional exercise.
“We’re testing clothing in a realistic setting,” said Cheung.