The impact of the health emergency on the fashion system has been seriously significant, especially if we consider the retail sector. The Covid-19 pandemic has put consumer safety at the forefront, as a sine qua non for restarting sales activities, and has made product sanitation and hygiene measures a priority. Many companies, in order to cope with the huge additional costs of maintaining the services in question, have given a strong boost to innovation. Specifically, they have made research and development sectors focus on the creation of innovative antibacterial and antimicrobial materials, fibers and fabrics. In the following post, we will discover: what are actually these antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial technologies; which are the companies that have so far worked to implement initiatives in this perspective; the difficulties that could be encountered in their realization and finally the context within which we can frame these antibacterial and antiviral protection operations.
Starting from the basics: what are antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial technologies?
Antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial technologies can be considered as all those processes and treatments that allow the final product - in this specific case we are focusing on clothing - not only to protect the person wearing it from viruses or bacteria, but sometimes even to destroy them. The finishing processes through which the fabrics pass make the final product a screen that hinders the permanence of the virus, inhibiting its resistance after a series of washes.
Which companies have proposed initiatives?
There are several companies that are working on experimentation in this field: I will just report the examples of Made in Italy by Marzotto Group, Albini Group, RespectLife and Diesel.
The Marzotto Group has established a collaboration with the Swedish company Polygiene for ViralOff technology. This technology is an antiviral treatment that can be applied on fabrics produced with natural fibers (wool, linen, cotton). In the process of experimentation, the finishing process makes it possible to reduce in a very short time over 99% of the viruses that could be on the surface of the fabric itself.
Albini Group is experimenting a new technology called VIROFORMULA, which uses Viroblock technology - produced by the Swiss company HeiQ - without altering the physical and mechanical properties of the materials. Specifically, the chemical-textile elements used allow to destroy viruses through the combination of:
patented silver-based technologies that activate high spectrum antiviral reactions by attracting viruses and bonding permanently to their sulfur groups;
fat vesicle technology (liposomes), which destroys viruses by exhausting the viral membrane in its cholesterol content.
This technology prevents tissues from becoming surfaces for the spread of harmful viruses and bacteria and also helps to reduce the risk and speed of contamination and transmission. Tissues in which VIROFORMULA technology has been integrated (which lasts up to 30 washes at delicate temperatures) actively inhibit viruses and kill bacteria in contact with the surface in a very short time.
RespectLife instead focuses on the design and production of fabrics and garments for healthcare personnel. The choice of the start-up focuses exclusively on Polypropylene (PP). Polypropylene is in fact a superhydrophobic fiber that does not allow bacterial colonization and reduces the possibility of virus transfer.
Diesel has launched Diesel Upfreshing, capsules in which it has not only added the PROTECTOR SHIELD technology, but it has integrated it in the SS20 collection, in order to reuse it and give new life to the garments. As we can read directly from the website, "PROTECTOR SHIELD combines a certified antibacterial and antimicrobial product with a barrier against salivary secretions (droplets)". This technology allows the customer to wash the products he has purchased less than he is used to: in this way, the garments will last longer and the waste of resources for maintenance will be less.
What could be one of the dangers of this trend? Marketing operations.
As we have already seen in relation to greenwashing and covidwashing, even in this case, without a proven evidence of the use of antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial technologies, there is a risk not only to have heavy repercussions on the credibility and reputation of the company, but also to compromise the socio-economic stability of a community. Moreover, for the consumer it is necessary to be able to recognize and distinguish precisely the different technologies, the properties, the possibilities of application and the stage of progress in testing. Above all, in a context of coexistence with the Covid-19 virus, it is necessary not to simplify. Each treatment originates from different chemical-textile combinations, and therefore is to be considered unique.
The creation, production and use of antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial fabrics are just some of the many challenges that the fashion system will face in 2020. The months of preventive closure have in fact raised important reflections and debates in general on the timing of production and distribution of products, increasing consumer interest in the traceability and impact of their acquisitions on the Planet. As we read above, this revolution of materials in clothing is perfectly inscribed in the green and sustainable context: serve as an example Polypropylene (PP), a technopolymer obtained from hydrocarbons and oil derivative, which not only has a high degree of recyclability, but thanks to its physical-chemical characteristics allows production to have a lower environmental impact than other synthetic fibers.
Translated by Noemi Monaco