The Rise of Anti-COVID Soft Goods

Since April, when it started to become evident that the coronavirus would likely stay around for a while, technology companies, fabric suppliers, and research institutions, as well as soft goods brands, began introducing anti-viral fabrics to repel SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—for use in apparel and home textiles.

Anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal fabrics have been used in medical settings for years, and more recently have become a trend in certain consumer categories such as athleticwear and bedding. But the number of new products on the market has accelerated during the pandemic. Some of the introductions involve recently developed technologies. Others are existing anti-viral processes that have now been tested specifically for SARS-CoV-2 and submitted for approval to the FDA and similar global bodies, so the marketers can advertise their anti-COVID-19 properties.

Some of the companies offering these sorts of fabric technologies—which are being used in or considered for licensed and collaborative products in some cases—include:

  • HeiQ, a Swiss company, which has developed the HeiQ Viroblock NJ J03, an anti-viral and anti-bacterial textile treatment. It combines silver-based technology, to deactivate and inhibit the replication of viruses and bacteria, and vesicle technology, to provide for rapid destruction of coronavirus and some other viruses. The Albini Group, an Italian luxury fabric company, uses HeiQ’s Viroblock for a range anti-COVID fabrics under the Viroformula name; Albini produces products for Armani, Prada, Kering, Ermenegildo Zegna, and other luxury labels. Similarly, Arvind, the Indian partner for Arrow, U.S. Polo Association, and other properties, is using fabric developed with HeiQ and Jintex of Taiwan for products under its Intellifabrix brand. Several other global apparel brands are working with HeiQ.
  • Crypton, a performance fabric maker, which offers an engineered textile made of fibers coated with a moisture barrier that will reportedly never “delaminate.” The material is billed as easy to clean and disinfect, as well as durable, and prohibits the growth of molds, bacteria (e-coli and MRSA), and viruses (HIV, hepatitis, and now COVID-19). In August, West Elm’s contract division and fabric supplier Designtex collaborated, along with Crypton, on a line of four fabrics made with the latter’s bonded fabric system, designed for residential luxury and commercial spaces. The fabrics are sold through Designtex to contract and residential designers, as well as being used in West Elm’s contract line, Work, which is distributed and designed by partner Steelcase.
  • Intelligent Fabric Technologies North America, a Canadian company, which markets a treatment called Protex that it says can kill 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2 particles within 10 minutes. UnderArmour used the treatment to coat its Sportsmask face covering (the first run sold out in an hour), while The North Face and Careismatic Brands (the licensee for Dickies and Cherokee medical scrubs and some retail clothing categories) are launching apparel made from Protex-treated fabrics. IFTNA also is planning to offer its own line of activewear under the Underit brand next year and to sell its treatment in spray form.
  • A Bangladeshi firm, Zaber and Zubair, which launched a Corona Block-branded anti-virus fabric that it hopes will be used for PPE and masks as well as consumer apparel globally. The company sent an order of half a million masks using the fabric to United Holdings in Dubai and says it has received inquiries from more than 100 brands around the world, including H&M, Marks & Spencer, and Tesco.
  • Swedish company Polygiene, which offers a finish it calls ViralOff. Marzotto Wool Manufacturing paired with the company to develop a new version of ViralOff that works with fabrics made of natural yarns, including cotton, linen, and wool. It is made from titanium dioxide and silver chlorine ions and is touted as eliminating 93% of viruses in 30 minutes and 99% within two hours. Marzotto hopes to use it on stretch and washable wool fabrics, as well as standard wool. Denim brand Diesel said in July that it would integrate ViralOff into some of its styles.

Other organizations that have developed or are developing anti-COVID technologies and processes for fabrics include Promethean Particles, Rudolf Group, the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering at Indiana University, Proneem, Sonovia, Trajet, Copper Clothing Co., Grasim Industries, Ruby Mills, and Donear Group, among many more.

Some apparel and home goods firms are also developing proprietary processes (often in collaboration with a technical partner). These range from Siyaram’s, an Indian brand known for its men’s suits, which in June launched a range of anti-coronavirus fabrics developed with the Australian healthcare firm Healthguard, to Style Group, a U.S. supplier of window blinds to the home, business, and hotel sectors, which launched two fabrics under the Antiviraltex and Aircleantex labels. Antiviraltex eliminates viruses on contact, while Aircleantex purifies the air by transforming ultraviolet light to give it COVID-neutralizing properties.

Medical professionals have been skeptical about whether such products are effective or needed. Transmission is currently believed to be mostly from person-to-person contact, via droplets caused by talking, sneezing, or coughing, rather than from surfaces, meaning that anti-COVID fabrics are addressing just a miniscule part of the problem. Even the companies that are making these products stress that they are meant as an added layer of protection rather than a failsafe against COVID-19, and that customers would need to continue hand washing, sanitizing, and social distancing even while wearing items made from their fabrics.

That said, there is likely to be some consumer demand, and it may continue beyond the current crisis. No vaccine that is developed, whether later this year or in the future, will be 100% effective, and many public health experts believe there could be more global pandemics ahead. Therefore, consumers may seek out fashion and home décor made from these fabrics for some additional peace of mind, even realizing that they are simply one more precaution beyond what they are already doing to protect themselves.

Note: We will be taking a break this coming Monday, September 7, 2020, for the U.S. Labor Day holiday. Watch for our regular twice-weekly posts to restart next Thursday, September 10.

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