Published 2022-04-07

This post is also available in Swedish

Tough tests on shell jackets in wind tunnels and material labs

Textiles that are slowly torn apart, soaked and aged with dirt and UV light. In a material testing lab in the Sports Tech Research Centre at Mid Sweden University, Mistra Sport & Outdoors is subjecting new and used shell jackets to tough tests. The aim is to see how functionality changes over time in order to boost the second-hand market.

Tear and tensile strength. Waterproofing and water-repellency properties. Breathability and degree of wear and abrasion. Louisa Swenne, doctoral student at the Sports Tech Research Centre and within Mistra Sport & Outdoors on the theme of , is leading the work on the shell jackets. She started her doctoral studentship in the spring of 2021 by mapping the market for second-hand sports and outdoor recreation products – platforms, companies’ circular initiatives and consumers’ attitudes to these initiatives.

Louisa Swenne, doctoral student at the Sports Tech Research Centre and Mistra Sport & Outdoors.

“The mapping showed that the functionality of the second-hand products was interesting. At present, they are mainly judged visually; in the best case scenario the consumer can also touch and feel the product,” Louisa Swenne says. “But it is difficult for a consumer to know the condition of a used product. This hatched an idea of measuring functionality and developing a method for assessing the functionality of second-hand products that both sellers and buyers can use.”

Sport and outdoor recreation products can be divided up into textiles (clothes), semi-textiles (such as tents and rucksacks) and hard products (such as ice hockey sticks, golf clubs and portable stoves). The project started by focusing on the textile products with a goal of subsequently continuing with the other product categories. Shell jackets were chosen for the current tests as they are technically advanced garments with many functions and they have a high second-hand value.

“We saw that there were many knowledge gaps to fill concerning this type of product. Shell jackets consist of several layers of fabric that are laminated with a membrane in between. It’s a fun but difficult garment to work with. It’s also a controversial garment as there is a discrepancy between what the companies expect of the consumer and how the consumer uses the garment regarding areas of use, washing and other maintenance.”

“We’re piecing together a puzzle”

Louisa Swenne and her colleague Kajsa Nilsson prepare samples.

Louisa Swenne and her colleagues test both new and used shell jackets. Seven outdoor companies have contributed new jackets for the tests, including Patagonia and Fjällräven, which are partners in Mistra Sport & Outdoors. The second-hand garments have been bought in as well as collected via friends and colleagues.

The new products are aged manually using various methods to see how their functionality changes over time. They are compared with the used jackets that have been exposed to natural wear and abrasion to see whether the ageing method corresponds to reality. Here, the user data on the second-hand garments is important.

“The work on the new and used jackets is taking place in parallel; we’re piecing together a puzzle,” Swenne explains. “We have a vision of developing a standardised method, a type of ocular inspection, which can be used to assess how much functionality ‘remains in the garment’, for example, to say that this jacket has retained 70 per cent of its original functionality. But we have realised there is a long way to go before we achieve that. Meanwhile, the work on the ageing method that we are now developing is important and new in the sector. The outdoor sector works extensively with product development, but mainly focusing on the initial capabilities of the product and evaluations using field tests. There is no standardised method for assessing a product’s capabilities over time.”

The fabric’s tear strength is analysed in the material testing lab at the Sports Tech Research Centre.

Swenne says that in shell jackets it has emerged that the fabric is the most critical element, not the zip as perhaps many people might think. The idea is that the method that will be developed in future will be applicable to other types of products. The most obvious products are tents and rucksacks which also consist of technically advanced fabrics with similar properties to the fabric of shell jackets.

“The goal is that our research will be useful in practice to increase the demand for second-hand garments as the expectations of the product can be more easily stated, but also to increase companies’ willingness to invest in these products through the right measures for mending and repairs.”

Read more about the material tests and watch a film about the work on the Mistra Sport & Outdoors website.