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Why the market for flame-resistant clothing is growing

Marketplace Contributor Jul 9, 2015
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The massive expansion of domestic oil and gas production over the last five or so years is rippling across the economies where that drilling is taking place. More oil workers need more welders, more restaurants — and more clothes. Specifically, workers are required to wear flame-resistant clothes, or FR for short, when they’re on oil and gas sites everywhere in the country.

Data from the federal Bureau of Labor statistics shows 80 people died from fires or explosions on oil and gas operations from 2009 to 2013, the latest five years available. Inside Energy has confirmed that’s more than any other private industry. So every little bit of protection helps.

Martin Jenkins, the excavation manager for C&H Solutions, a company that builds infrastructure for oil and gas rigs in Northern Colorado, says he’s seen a lot of changes over the last three or four years in the FR stuff you can get.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” he says. “(Before), you had basically two shirts that you could choose from and one style of pants, and that was it.”

Today, he lets his guys pick out whatever works for them, sending them to Frackin’ Hot FR, a shop in Greeley, CO dedicated to flame-resistant clothes. There are at least a half dozen stores in the area, the heart of Colorado’s oil and gas production, trying to tap into the FR market.

Frackin' Hot FR in Greeley, CO.

Frackin’ Hot FR in Greeley, CO.

“You can drive anywhere in Greeley and go shopping for FR clothing,” Jenkins says.

Demand has been surging and big-time clothing brands around the country are taking notice. Working clothes brand Carhartt out of Michigan is now offering FR. Cinch out of Denver is too.

“Everyone is jumping in on it,” says Tara Roemke, who works in marketing for California-based Ariat, a brand usually known for cowboy boots and other western wear.

A couple of years ago the stores selling Ariat products started asking for more FR, and customers wanted an upgrade. Roemke says typically, FRs were stiff and heavy, with little thought to fashion.

“Nothing about it really makes it a joy to wear,” she says.

Ariat developed new garments that still provide protection against fire, but look and feel like their regular jeans and western shirts. Roemke says over the past year Ariat’s FR sales have been 60 percent higher than what the company forecast. A couple of their FR jeans are also now among their top products.

“And for that to happen within a little over a two-year period is pretty incredible,” she says.

One of the employees of C&H Solutions, Will Kessler, recently went to Frackin’ Hot FR to choose a shirt for heading out into the oil fields. He picked a button-up with a collar; dark blue so it doesn’t reflect the light from welding into his eyes.

“It’s almost like a regular long-sleeve shirt,” he said.

It’s going to set his company back $55, which Kessler didn’t think sounded so bad. Heading to the register, he noticed something he wasn’t expecting.

“(It’s) what appears to be some lingerie,” he said, and he was right.

Frackin’ Hot Manager Deania Christopher says they’re a one-stop shop.

“A lot of people know us as the FR store that sells lingerie,” she says. 

Well, whatever it takes to build a brand.

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