June 22, 2015

In Oilfield Towns, A Boom In Flame Resistant Clothing

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Will Kessler, a welder working in Colorado's oil fields, tries on a flame resistant shirt at Frackin' Hot FR in Greeley, CO.

Dan Boyce

Will Kessler, a welder working in Colorado's oil fields, tries on a flame resistant shirt at Frackin' Hot FR in Greeley, CO.

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, on oil and gas sites everywhere in the country.

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

Martin Jenkins is the excavation manager for C&H Solutions, a company that builds infrastructure for oil and gas rigs in Northern Colorado. He said he’s seen a lot of changes over the last three or four years in the FR fashion available.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” he said. “(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 choose whatever works for them, sending them to Frackin’ Hot FR, a shop in Greeley, Colorado,  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.

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

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,” said 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 said typically FRs were stiff and heavy with little thought to fashion.

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

Ariat developed new garments that still provide protection against fire, but look and feel like their regular jeans and western shirts. Roemke said 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 said.

Frackin' Hot FR in Greeley, CO.

Dan Boyce

Frackin’ Hot FR in Greeley, CO.

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 said they’re a one-stop shop.

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

Whatever it takes to build a brand.

What’s Next:

  • We first read the statistic about more fire and explosion deaths in oil and gas than any other private industry in this story from Energywire. We confirmed that finding with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • If you happen to stop by Frackin’ Hot FR in Greeley, you get a free hard hat sticker with every purchase.
  • Tara Roemke with Ariat says they are releasing a women’s FR line this fall.