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Fashion as protective shield: are antiviral outfits on the rise?

By Regina Henkel


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In the health and sports sectors, antiviral functions have been known and used for a long time. In fashion, they were previously thought of as superfluous. That has changed since the pandemic.

Back in 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic, a picture of Naomi Campbell went around the world: the model was photographed at an airport in a white full-bodysuit, wearing a face mask and rubber gloves. What may have seemed exaggerated at the time is actually a very obvious idea: clothing can be used as a protective shield against invisible enemies such as viruses and bacteria. The technologies for this have long been available. They are regularly used in workwear for the healthcare sector and in sports collections, where they avoid unpleasant odours by preventing the growth of bacteria.

New antiviral equipment

In view of Covid-19, these technologies have been further improved and adapted in recent months. Several textile chemistry companies have launched new or further developed antiviral finishes at a tremendous pace, for example Polygiene from Sweden with its “ViralOff” finish, HeiQ from Switzerland with its “Viroblock” technology, Affix Labs from Finland with “Si-Quat,” Devan from Belgium with “Bi-Ome AV” and Toray from Japan with “Makspec V.” All manufacturers promise that their products can reliably kill many different viruses and bacteria within a few minutes or hours. Clothing equipped in this way therefore not only protects its wearer from the penetration of harmful germs, the germs are actively eliminated by the clothing, making them harmless to everyone.

Fashion as protective shield

After an initial wave of antiviral face masks released by Maloja, Mammut, or Burberry, for example, some fashion companies began to integrate antiviral products into their collections or even treat entire categories with them. Just a few weeks after the pandemic broke out, Italian denim brand Diesel launched its first antiviral jeans for the F/S 2021 season, using Polygiene's “ViralOff” finish. Similarly, denim brands DL1961 and Warp + Weft have teamed up with HeiQ to give all future denim models HeiQ “Viroblock” antiviral treatment. The same is true for menswear supplier Monobi Fashion of Italy who is using it to add antivirals to jackets and jumpsuits. In October 2020, a startup called BioRomper also launched in the U.S. with a single product: an antimicrobial jumpsuit designed to prevent surface contamination while traveling. There are also early adopters in high fashion: designer Phillip Lim presented his “Live Free” antiviral collection in November. His goal: to make people's lives easier.


Antiviral collections - a new trend?

Whether we will actually encounter this equipment more frequently in the future is far from decided. HeiQ was already supplying around 500 customers at the beginning of the year. Polygiene reported a 141 percent jump in sales in the first quarter of 2021, driven by continued demand for ViralOff. “We will probably have to get used to living with the threat of viral infections, which means using protective clothing will have to become a part of our daily lives,” says Chief Marketing Officer Hoi Kwan Lam of HeiQ. “This fact has not gone unnoticed by brands who are now jumping on the bandwagon in growing numbers and adding antiviral protective gear to their textile products.”

At the moment, the different legal frameworks in different countries speak against a broad, international roll-out of antiviral fashion. Not every product is approved internationally. Toray's “Makspec V” antiviral finish, for example, has so far only been approved in Japan, but it should soon be possible to use it in international collections. “We have received positive responses from Japanese garment manufacturers, mainly for uniforms worn by staff in hospitals, hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses, as well as educational institutions,” says Toray's Taira Kurosawa. “We believe the use of antiviral materials in uniforms for the service and hospitality industries will increase in the future.”

New scopes of application

Most finishes survive around 30 washes, after which they lose their effectiveness if not refreshed. To enable consumers to do this themselves, manufacturers such as HeiQ and Affix have developed sprays. In this form, they can also become interesting for fashion retailers: “Studies show that viruses can remain active on the textile surface for two days or more at room temperature,” explains Carlo Centonze, co-founder and CEO of HeiQ. “This is also why in some countries, such as the UK, it is now mandatory to ‘quarantine’ garments after each fitting. At the request of many of our customers, we have turned HeiQ ‘Viroblock’ into a spray they can use in their stores to ‘clean’ products after touching or trying them on.” The sprays adhere to many surfaces, not just clothing. As a result, their applications extend far beyond the apparel industry - from automotive interiors to mattresses, bedding, curtains and tablecloths in the hospitality industry. The fact is that the pandemic has significantly changed our need for protection. The fight against viruses and bacteria is now also taking place on textile surfaces.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.