By adding in the same material that allows flak jackets to stop bullets, one company is giving duck cloth – the sturdy standard-bearer of work-wear fabrics – a marked improvement.
In 1965, a chemist at DuPont named Stephanie Kwolek was searching for a lighter alternative to replace the steel used in reinforcing racing tyres. In the lab, she discovered a liquid crystal polyamide that, when spun into a fibre, was five times stronger than steel at the same weight and lighter than nylon – DuPont’s first commercially successful synthetic fibre. The chemical name for Kwolek’s compound was poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide. DuPont called it Kevlar.
Since then, it has become synonymous with the tactical bulletproof vests worn by military and SWAT teams, saving thousands of lives since the body armour was introduced in 1975. Kevlar is also found in conveyor belts in coal mines, NASA spacesuits, cellphone cases, motorcycle pants, and hockey socks that can last longer than their smell ought to allow. And now: the Kevlar work jacket for the man who likes to work. Work jackets have been made largely of traditional cotton duck cloth ever since Carhartt began manufacturing clothes for railroad workers at the end of the 19th century. By weaving Kevlar into the lengthwise threads of its duck cloth, a company called Walls in Fort Worth, Texas, has made a jacket that, while not exactly bulletproof, can withstand the rigours of weekend chores and a construction site alike.
We took a metal file to the elbows of the new Walls Workwear Muscle Back Coat for ten minutes and came away with nothing but minor pilling and a sore arm. Finally, all the hard work you put into breaking in a jacket won’t actually break it.
This article was originally published in the April 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.