In the past, antibacterial and antiviral fabric treatments were merely an “add-on” feature — but according to Dagsmejan, a sustainable Swedish-Swiss sleepwear company, these technologies “have become a must-have” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Antibacterial fabrics have been around for many years, as they’ve been particularly useful for performance-oriented sportswear, the company said. “Traditionally, [antibacterial technology] has been a finishing applied to the knitted fabric, with the disadvantage that this treatment washed out after 30 to 40 washes and the effect was gone.”
That’s why Dagsmejan — a Swedish word that references the final days of winter, when the warmth of the sunshine melts the snow even when the temperature is still below zero, according to the brand — developed a technology where antibacterial properties are added at the fiber level, creating a more sustainable and permanent solution to preserving these properties over time.
Dagsmejan also uses natural antibacterial materials such as merino wool, explaining that the thin waxy coating of wool fiber, called lanolin, contains fatty acids that inhibit the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria — which ultimately serve to protect a sheep’s skin from infection. “Those natural properties also prevail in the finished garment,” the company said. But antiviral fabrics are a new frontier, the brand noted.
“We have [recently] seen huge demand for our products — sleep is our natural immune booster and people are realizing that investing in sleep is one of the best investments at this time,” said Andreas Lenzhofer, chairman and cofounder of Dagsmejan.
Here, Lenzhofer talks to WWD about the specifics of antibacterial fabrics versus antiviral fabrics, and the future of antiviral materials in fashion.
WWD: What will the market for antibacterial and antiviral fabrics in fashion look like moving forward?
Andreas Lenzhofer: First of all, it is important to define the similarities but also the differences between a virus and a bacteria to clarify the purpose of antiviral and antibacterial fabrics.
Bacteria are unicellular organisms. They are living cells that can be either beneficial or harmful to other organisms. Viruses, on the other hand, are considered to be particles that are somewhere between living and nonliving cells. Viruses have to invade the body of a host organism in order to replicate their particles.
A bacterium can survive on its own, inside or outside the body. Most bacteria aren’t harmful. Most viruses are pathogenic.
Therefore, the purpose of antiviral versus antibacterial fabrics are slightly different. Bacteria in a fabric is more of a nuisance rather than a threat as they — in combination with moisture emitted from our body — can start to stink, and the more bacteria live in our clothing, the more annoying this can get, but normally the consequences are not pathogenic. Hence, the main purpose of an antibacterial fabric is to inhibit the growth of bacteria to keep a fabric fresh to wear for many days or nights without the need of washing it daily after wearing.
On the other hand, viruses — needless to say, these days — are more than a nuisance. Hence, the purpose of an antiviral fabric is to inhibit any kind of host cells that a virus has or can invade on the fabric, waiting for a passage to the doors of our body. And given the potentially lethal consequence of a virus, there is a different level of testing and certification needed that a fabric can qualify to be antiviral.
WWD: Do you think consumers will actively seek antiviral fashion?
A.L.: Given the high uncertainty and the potentially lethal consequences of an infection with COVID-19, there is clearly a foreseeable demand for antiviral fabrics. First and foremost, consumers are most interested in protecting masks, and here an antiviral fabric is certainly a great benefit — in particular if the fabric is compliant with international standards such as ISO 20743, and the fashion industry has already started to convert an original medical tool into a fashion statement.
We can also see some new garments claiming to have antiviral properties, and there for sure is a market. While researchers found that the virus can remain on some surfaces for up to 72 hours, so far, evidence suggests that it’s harder to catch the virus from a soft surface (such as fabric) than it is from frequently touched hard surfaces like elevator buttons or door handle.
WWD: What about designers? Might they create regular collections with antiviral materials?
A.L.: For sure, designers will create regular collections with antiviral materials, and we see this already happening with masks — almost all premium labels have started to offer some masks as a fashion statement and the use of proven antiviral materials will certainly create additional protection. In the bigger picture, COVID-19 is such a transformative event that this theme will surely be taken up in some collections.
WWD: What trends for antiviral fabrics and fashion can we expect to see in the short term, and in the long term?
A.L.: Compared to [sectors such as] health care and nutrition, fabric manufacturing is still loosely regulated when it comes to labeling requirements and scientific testing of claims. While this somehow accepted in the wider industry and by consumers, despite the often negative ecological consequences or the rare occasion of skin irritations due to the use of harmful substances, this level of nonchalance cannot be accepted when it comes to antiviral fabrics declarations.
While today it is often a “Wild West” with hundreds of brands producing masks or clothing with antiviral claims going unchecked, long-term this situation will not be tolerated and technologies such as Viroblock, newly developed by the Swiss company HeiQ and are tested and certified, will prevail.
WWD: Will COVID-19 forever change fashion and consumer behavior?
A.L.: During the lock-ins, there was a clear change in consumer behavior — why invest in fashion if you cannot go out? On the other hand, consumers shifted discretionary spending to where it matters: personal health, comfort and safety. And it comes as no surprise that in particular categories such as sleepwear, sportswear and home wear have benefited in recent weeks.
The jury is still out on whether this is a long-term trend or just a temporary change. What we at Dagsmejan believe is that people’s focus on personal health and wellbeing will only increase, and product categories supporting this need will prosper.
WWD: How effective are antiviral fabrics, and are they truly protective?
A.L.: Research published by the American Chemical Society and conducted by University of Chicago scientists suggests that fabric type plays a role in filtration efficiency. Face masks made from one layer of cotton and two layers of silk effectively filtered over 90 percent of particles over 300 nanometers in size. This is still much lower than fabrics used for surgical masks, which are made of non-woven fabric, mainly made of polypropylene, which has better bacteria filtration and air permeability while remaining less slippery than woven cloth.
Antiviral finishing of fabrics can significantly enhance the protectiveness of classic woven or knitted fabrics, but consumers need to be sure that the claims made by the producer are scientifically tested and properly certified.
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