U.S. military issues fashion challenge to find a better protective suit


The U.S. military is soliciting help from fashion designers and textile experts to assist in redesigning the protective suits soldiers wear against chemical and biological attacks.

The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, a division within the U.S. Department of Defense, has launched a competition dubbed “Proof-The Chembio Suit Design Challenge” and is offering a total of $250,000 to finalists and semifinalists.

The current chemical biological suits worn by U.S. troops are heavy and bulky, restricting a soldier’s agility, range of motion and maneuverability and hindering their duties, according to the military.


To that end, the government is throwing open the redesign of its vital suit to the public and seeking ideas and solutions that will increase mobility, dexterity and tactility. The military is also looking for innovative ideas for “heat management” that reduces the heat burdens and actively cools a soldier, as well as ideas to improve the integration between suit components, such as mask-helmet or glove-boot interface.

A kickoff event will be held on Thursday at the Museum of Science in Boston where the competition will be announced and troops will be attendance to explain how the suit needs to be improved.

Military leaders are seeking ideas from fashion designers, researchers, students and entrepreneurs in material science, textile design, material design and wearables.

They have also established a panel of judges — experts in design, military and the sciences — for the competition, including two officials from the JPEO-CBD. Three private sector experts will also be on the panel, including: Matthew Trexler, director of technology validation at Under Armour; Mark Sunderland, a professor of textile engineering at Philadelphia University and chief executive officer of Boathouse, and David Strum, president of Velocity Systems.

The program officials have launched a Facebook page and web site where designs can be submitted at

Three semifinalists stand to win up to $25,000 each and three finalists will win $50,000 to $150,000. In addition, five small-prize contest winners will be awarded up to $5,000 each.

The Obama administration has placed a big focus on the next wave of advanced technologies and launched initiatives that bring the public and private sector together to innovate and create products with a wide range of applications.

In April, the DOD and Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveiled details of the administration’s sweeping $315 million public-private project aimed at keeping the country at the forefront of fiber and textiles innovation — on the battlefield and on main street.

The institute will be composed of a consortium of 89 manufacturers, universities and nonprofits organized by MIT and DOD. Its primary goal is to innovate and create what could potentially become a new industry of advanced and highly functional fibers and textile manufacturing for military and commercial applications.

Under the banner Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, or AAFOA, the consortium is comprised of firms from several industries and fields, including fashion groups VF Corp., New Balance and Nike and textile manufacturers Milliken & Co., Buhler Quality Yarns and Inman Mills. The project also encompasses 52 companies and 32 universities, colleges and other schools, including the Fashion Institute of Technology.


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