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It’s that time of the year when many of us choose to take our annual holidays. Some will choose to spend their time relaxing by a pool or on the beach whilst others may opt to participate in more active pursuits.  Whether it’s a new carry-on bag or a suitcase for that special trip abroad or just new flip-flops for the time by the pool, a holiday is often the only excuse needed to indulge in retail therapy. How many of us give thought to the considerations made to ensure that the products are fit for purpose and safe for the consumer to use?  In this article we are going to consider a few of the safety aspects of some main leather and footwear articles that we come into contact with during an imaginary holiday.

The preparation

Before we get to our holiday destination, much preparation will go into deciding what to take and ensuring all the items will fit in our luggage. Most airlines have very strict weight limits for both carry on and checked luggage. Budget airlines, especially, have limited weight allowances with passengers having to pay a premium for taking overweight luggage. As a result, many passengers are opting to maximise how much they place in hand luggage. This may place high levels of strain on critical parts of the bag.

One safety critical test recommended for all bags is handle attachment strength. Whilst small bags may often be only tested to approximately 10kg of weight, medium and larger bags should have been tested to 15kg and 20kg respectively which should be sufficient for all but the most extreme of hand luggage limits.

In addition, stuffing the hand luggage full of items places stresses and strains on other parts of the bag, especially closure systems such as zippers, hook and loop fasteners and press studs as well as many functional seams within the bag. For these reasons, performance specifications have specific tests which ensure the bag will withstand extensive usage.

The departure

Once the bags have been filled with items we think we will need for the holiday, we are ready to leave for the airport. Even before we’ve arrived at the holiday destination, there are many touch points where leather safety is critical.

Leather seats in your car, the airport and especially on the plane have all gone through extensive product testing and assessments to ensure safety.

In addition to the high level physical testing required for car seats to last 10 years, they have to have sufficient grip to ensure that a driver or a passenger does not suffer from ‘submarining’ (sliding excessively forward and underneath the view of the windscreen) during rapid braking. This grip has to be balanced with sufficient ability for the user to move comfortably on the seat during transport.

At the airport, seating materials were tested for high level flammability resistance. In public seating areas, it is critical that seats can resist rapid flame spread to enable timely escape from the area of fire and for the emergency services to deal with the issue.

As you move to the plane you may notice that leather is a popular choice for airlines. Leather has been shown to have a lower cost of ownership than corresponding fabric upholstery. In the closed environment of a plane cabin, these materials must have the highest levels of flammability resistance to give passengers the highest opportunity to escape. In fact, the test is so extreme that burning liquid kerosene is sprayed onto a test seat to assess the level of burning and flame spread. Leather panels on sidewalls and vertical panels also must resist the development of high levels of smoke and heat generation during burning. All of these considerations will have been included in the risk analysis of leather seating for different applications.

The arrival

Once we’ve arrived at our destination, it is likely that we visit the pool or beach first and start to relax. For most of us the footwear choice are casual beach footwear or flip-flops / pool slides as these are convenient and are designed for extreme wet conditions. Irrespective of the low price point for flip flops, much safety and risk assessment will have gone into ensuring that they can be safely worn. A principle safety test for all footwear and especially for those worn in slippery environments such as wet areas around swimming pools, is the so called slip resistance test.

This test is designed to mimic the action of walking and measures the level of grip between the sole of the footwear and the ground. As holiday environments will often have wet flooring, the test also assesses grip on both dry and wet surfaces such as clay tiles and assesses grip in the heel and toe area of the footwear.

With the simple strap or toe post on flip flops, it is vital that the flip flop does not break during wear and thereby cause injury. Depending on the style of footwear, both of these characteristics  can be assessed to ensure suitability.  These examples serve to show how a risk analysis must be done and how the product will be exposed. In addition to these safety issues, the product technologist should also have assessed the risk of extreme environments such as sea water and chlorinated pool water on the colour fastness of the product. Consumers expect even low priced point products to perform and not prematurely age.

The night out

After a relaxing day by the pool thoughts usually turn to the evening meal and perhaps a night out. Holidays often represent a great opportunity to dress up.

For women’s footwear, the presence of medium to high heels brings its own level of safety concerns to the product design. The stability of the heel, their resistance to repeated knocking and strength of attachment are all aspects that must be rigorously assessed before the shoe can be sold. The heel must be able to carry the weight of the user and be able to withstand walking and even vigorous dancing. Any damage or heel breakage is likely to result in serious injury to the wearer.

Post holiday and back to school

After returning from holiday many parents will be preparing for the children returning to school. In addition to the safety critical performance of footwear including slip resistance and strength of embellishment attachment, many children’s footwear include design elements such as in-built lighting systems, for example, areas of the footwear which light up during wear.

This relatively simple addition to the footwear results in additional performance requirements and the need to conform to certain directives.

Summary

This walk through an imaginary holiday serves to highlight just some of the many considerations that must be given to any item of footwear or bags before they can be sold. It is the role of the technologist to ensure that reasonable consideration is given and that the product performs appropriately.

SGS has specific and extensive knowledge in all areas of consumer products and is able to offer expert advice and support on leather products and footwear.

Contact your local SGS account manager for further information.

Andrew Hudson
Global Technical Manager
(Leather and Footwear)
SGS United Kingdom Limited
t: +44 7841 566777