Lululemon And Under Armour To Help Pick Army’s Next Chem Warfare Suit

The 19-year-old chemical-biological suit could be getting a very comfy upgrade

Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Aug 16, 2016 at 11:29 AM ET

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) is in the market for a new chemical warfare suit, but they’re turning to some surprising judges to decide how future Chemical Corps soldiers should dress.

Last week, the DoD’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) announced a competition for the redesign of the current 19-year-old chemical-biological protective outfit, known as JLIST (Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology). This suit weighs 6 pounds and can protect a warfighter from liquid chemical agents for 24 hours, but as the competition invite states: “The current chemical biological suit’s burden, weight, and bulkiness restricts troops’ agility, range of motion, and maneuverability necessary to conduct their duties. It’s also hot. The suit materials and its various parts are disjointed and do not seamlessly integrate.”

To find developers who can make a comfortable, cooler, and more practical suit, the military is broadening its search beyond the typical government contractors, asking for proposals from “all types of designers, researchers, students, and entrepreneurs in material science, textile design, material design and wearables.”

More ‘It’s Overblown’ Says Inventor Of Olympic Antimicrobial Suit

Whoever comes up with the best design will win $150,000. Another $100,000 will go to finalists and semifinalists. As for who will choose that winner, the DoD is relying largely on insight from the athletic clothing industry.

One judge will come from the hosting organization, JPEO-CBD, and one is the president of military gear supplier Velocity Systems. But the other three judges are on the business and development side of Boathouse Sports, Under Armour, and Lululemon.

If that panel surprises you, it will make more sense once you consider the judges’ experience. Under Armour director of technology validation Matthew Trexler got his start as a materials engineer for the Army Research and Boathouse CEO and chief engineer Mark Sunderland was responsible for the U.S. Olympic rowing teams’ high-tech seamless unisuit.

As for Lululemon fabrics developer Egemen Izci—well, don’t you think chemical warfare soldiers deserve to be as comfortable as an athleisure-clad yogi?