AstroKnit & Beyond!
Q&A with WAYB’s Product Chief
What’s the secret to ultra light air travel? For WAYB, our secret weapon is AstroKnit™, our proprietary, technical mesh that is inherently flame resistant and helps us create the 8-pound wonder -- the Pico travel car seat -- without the foam found in traditional car seats. Here’s an interview with WAYB’s Product Chief, Jeff Lockie, on what makes AstroKnit so special.
Q: Can you start by telling us what AstroKnit is, and where we can find it on the Pico?
A: AstroKnit is a proprietary performance fabric we use in the main areas of the car seat and where a child’s skin touches most—the seat, backrest, and headrest.
Q: Where did the idea for AstroKnit come from and how did it become such an integral part of the Pico car seat’s design?
A: It stemmed from our desire to replace the foam that is used in traditional car seats. In the base construction of a traditional car seat, you have this bulky plastic shell, with a layer of foam, covered by fabric with flame retardants (FRs) on it (flame resistance is required to pass car seat testing). All three of those materials -- plastic, foam, and flame retardants -- have environmental implications that we wanted to solve for in our design.
We knew we were going to use aerospace-grade aluminum instead of a plastic shell. From there, the challenge was to create a safe, comfortable seat without foam. We took inspiration from our own modern office chairs from Herman Miller and decided to experiment using a tensioned mesh to create the seat. Plus, we knew if we were comfortable sitting in a chair with that same construct, it would be comfortable for a child on a car or plane ride.
Q: What about the flame resistance requirement in order to pass testing? How did you solve for that?
A: That’s where the fun began. We researched materials that were inherently flame resistant so we could avoid adding chemicals on the fabric. And that’s when we came across the exceptional properties of wool. AstroKnit is a wool-polyester blend. Because of the natural flame-resistant qualities of wool, we were able to achieve our goal of creating a fabric that’s inherently flame resistant with no flame retardant chemicals. Wool is also a great insulator against heat and cold, which helps regulate body temperature.
Q: It sounds like wool is a wonder material. Why did you decide to blend it with polyester?
A: We needed AstroKnit to be durable enough to withstand high-tension pulling and the tumults of traveling with a toddler. A soft and pliable material, wool is great as an outer fabric, but it did not meet all our requirements for a high-performance mesh. By blending wool with the right amount of polyester, we were able to create AstroKnit: a wool-polyester mesh with all the benefits of wool (inherent flame resistance and temperature regulation in particular), and the performance attributes of polyester.
Q: Are there any ethical considerations around wool sourcing that you were mindful of?
A: At WAYB, everyone is tasked with considering the social and environmental implications of our decisions, regardless of what department you’re in. Our product team is no exception. So when we considered using a wool-polyester blend for AstroKnit, we considered the entire supply chain. We ensured we were sourcing our wool responsibly, as there can be many ethical considerations when sourcing natural material. Our research led us to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), a global standard for sourcing wool that addresses the entire supply chain, down to the welfare of sheep and the land they graze on. I’m proud to say that WAYB sources all of its wool from RWS certified suppliers.
Q: What advice would you give to a company that shares in WAYB’s mission to innovate products that are healthier, safer, and responsibly-made, but is unsure where to start?
A: It’s important to make sure those values are rooted in all aspects of the business, not just one department. And be sure to welcome innovation and different perspectives from every level of the organization. Lastly, when WAYB is faced with a design challenge, we aren’t afraid to pioneer products and processes that are better. Although that sometimes means sacrificing extra development time and potentially higher material costs, that mentality has served us well thus far and has kept up the spirit of innovation throughout the company.