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How is a space suit made? And what does space travel have to do with fashion? We take a look behind the scenes of the production of the new female astronaut suit used in the Women Empowerment Training of Astronautin GmbH.
In the shop window of the KAIMAN fashion boutique in Bremen’s Ostertorstraße, chic trouser suits, sheath and silk dresses are on display. But this year, the two owners Andrea and Jennifer Victoria Srowig have also produced something extraterrestrial for women; a shiny silver astronaut suit with a fitted waist. Although it is less practical for everyday use than the business outfits, it has another advantage: it makes you feel extraterrestrially good.
The special request came from Claudia Kessler, CEO of the space start-up Astronautin GmbH. Kessler offers management workshops coupled with elements from astronaut training. The target group are women in management positions. With the training they are coached for the next step in their careers. The participants become astronauts themselves and experience how invigorating a step beyond their own limits can be. Women and space are two topics close to Kessler’s heart: She is the founder of the Women in Aerospace Europe (WIA-E) network and her company is part of the ESA Business Incubation Centre Northern Germany.
For her empowerment courses, Kessler was still looking for a special suit and at KAIMAN she found what she was looking for. Since 1991 Andrea Srowig has been designing sustainable fashion, which is sewn and produced entirely in the greater Bremen area. Four years ago, her daughter Jennifer Victoria joined the business. Tailoring is a family business. When Jennifer Victoria Srowig visited her paternal grandmother, she always sewed, crocheted or knitted. “My grandmother used to sew for KAIMAN too, so the know-how could be passed on to the next generation.”
But Kessler’s request was not only appropriate because of the company’s design and tailoring expertise. Andrea Srowig’s husband Peter works in the space industry. A trip to the rocket launch site in Kourou, French Guyana inspired her to create her business name KAIMAN (English translation: Caiman). There Andrea saw the alligator species for the first time. On top of that her daughter Jennifer Victoria also wrote her bachelor and master thesis in the space industry.
Claudia Kessler brought the tailors a fabric which is also used in the foundry industry. “The fabric is resistant to heat as well as cold and is worn by welders,” says Kessler. Despite the silver colouring and the weight of the fabric, it only has something in common externally with a space suit. For space walks and outboard work on the ISS, space suits have to protect the astronauts and simulate a piece of the Earth at an altitude of almost 500 kilometres. “That would of course have been far too expensive,” says Claudia Kessler. A space suit costs several million euros.
The KAIMAN team enjoyed the design very much. “We wanted to develop something spacy and feminine that was future-oriented and at the same time down-to-earth,” says Jennifer Victoria Srowig. The requirements for the space suit were being able to move in it, for it to express femininity and not being too heavy. They used almost five metres of the heavy fabric; “that naturally adds to the weight and stiffness of the garment,” says Jennifer Victoria Srowig.
The team had to be inventive. They sewed in additional fabric inserts to increase movability. Another anomaly: although the fabric could be sewn with an industrial sewing machine, it could not be cut with the traditional cutting tools and scissors. Peter Srowig found suitable scissors for the heavy fabric in his workshop at home. The scissors had to be re-sharpened again and again. They sewed the suit in teamwork: one held and bent the fabric, the other sewed it. The entire KAIMAN team was involved in the construction of the space suit.
In May Claudia Kessler tried on the first design of the suit. “We are getting a space suit for ground simulation, specially tailored for women,” she wrote enthusiastically on her Instagram channel. “You feel completely different in a space suit,” Kessler says today. “You move out of your own comfort zone, work in a cramped environment, start sweating. This helps to build up your own psychological resistance and strengthens self-confidence. Both of which can be used to successfully overcome crises,” continues Kessler.
Would you like to slip into this suit, take part in a Mars simulation mission or a training “not quite out of this world”? Then get in touch with “Astronautin GmbH”. You can find the training dates here!