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How the Denim Industry Is Navigating Protective Textile Treatments

As countries race to distribute vaccines to protect the world against the coronavirus contagion, could specially treated jeans solve the spread of Covid-19? Probably not. But antimicrobial finishing technologies offer a multitude of hygienic and environmental benefits for the denim industry—and some of the sector’s top manufacturers, brands and chemical companies are coming up with solutions to cater to increasingly health-conscious consumers.

PG Denim, Artistic Milliners, Diesel, Warp + Weft and DL1961 are united in a common goal: ensuring peace of mind for people pulling on denim. “We are seeing that there is a growing demand for durability, protection and hygiene from the denim consumer, both for adults and children,” said Murtaza Ahmed, managing director for Pakistani denim mill Artistic Milliners. “Although people can only spend a limited time outside, they want to be more active,” he added, and “need to feel protected” when venturing from quarantine confines to explore the outdoors.

New concepts

As the coronavirus crisis mushroomed into a full-blown global pandemic in the middle of March, Italy’s PG Denim debuted the aptly named “F-word Bacteria” capsule collection, which first hit the market offering twin technologies from German chemical company Rudolf Group. One textile technology borrows a hospital-grade formulation tasked with staving off bacterial infections, leveraging a microstructure wrapped in a metallic structure that prevents the troublesome microbes from flourishing. The other, a fluorine-free water repellent innovation used by the likes of G-Star Raw, thwarts droplets of bodily fluids from adhering to treated surfaces.

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In September, the fabric developer launched a full collection under the same name, this time working with Italian mill Berto and Swedish chemical company Polygiene to develop a fabric offering both antibacterial and antiviral properties. Polygiene’s ViralOff technology, coupled with another water-repellent solution, eliminates 99 percent of viruses from the fabric’s surfaces within two hours. The technology meets the ISO18184:2019 textile standard that enables a company to claim antiviral efficacy.

PG Denim founder Paolo Gnutti says the F-word Bacteria concept means retailers have another way disinfecting garments, and gives consumers a measure of confidence that their jeans are less likely to bring bacteria and viruses home from public spaces.

In the time of Covid-19, the denim industry explores protective textile treatments including antibacterial finishing technologies.
PG Denim PG Denim

Rudolf Group also branched out into antiviral territory when it enhanced its flagship antimicrobial product RUCO-BAC AGP earlier this year. R&D director Dr. Dirk Sielemann said the company’s proprietary silver-covered microstructures produce a “virtually infinite protective shield” for textiles, offering antiviral performance tested to be effective against viruses known to cause a range of animal and human diseases.

Environmental health

In addition to shielding against bacteria and viruses, the denim industry’s protective technologies fall in line with another top-of-mind imperative: sustainability. Denim created with Calik Denim’s new Washpro technology and Functionage fabrics include antimicrobial and self-cleaning properties that mean jeans stay fresher for longer, allowing wearers to reduce water consumption through fewer launderings.

Tolga Ozkurt, Calik Denim deputy general manager of sales and marketing, says it was the environment—not the coronavirus—that inspired the innovations. “Our most important source of inspiration [for launching this collection] is to reduce the impact on the environment by contributing to the reduction of microfiber pollution in oceans and seas,” he said.

The Turkish denim mill next plans to conduct more rigorous testing, and investigate new antiviral fiber innovations that provide additional benefits. “Our next focus will be on the functionality of our fabrics,” Ozkurt said. “Fabrics have the potential to make your life better. Your garment doesn’t just cover your body—it needs to do more.”

In the time of Covid-19, the denim industry explores protective textile treatments including antibacterial finishing technologies.
Calik Washpro Calik Denim

Tested and proven

The Covid-19 outbreak has heightened interest in solutions that can protect against this new strain of the novel coronavirus. Tests conducted with Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia indicate that Swiss textile technology firm HeiQ’s Viroblock technology is 99.99 percent effective in just 30 minutes against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Artistic Milliners partnered with HeiQ to launch Protech, a suite of silver-based technologies applied on masks and jeans. Within the Protech umbrella, the Pakistan-based, vertically integrated denim company offers four different technologies: Eversafe, which features an anti-bacterial barrier; Everguard, which includes a mosquito and insect shield; Everfresh, a sustainable bio-based technology combining climate and anti-odor technologies; and Evercool, which merges climate and antimicrobial technology and uses a bio-based cooling technology activated by body temperature.

However, geography dictates the claims HeiQ is allowed to make about its products, and even how they’re branded at market. The U.S. market, for example, knows HeiQ Viroblock as HeiQ V-Block.

“What claims can be made very much depends on which jurisdiction the product is selling,” said Hoi Kwan Lam, HeiQ’s chief marketing officer. “For example, in the U.S., we do not claim its antiviral efficacy, nor do we use the name HeiQ Viroblock on finished products, just to avoid implying that the product would give wearers a health benefit.”

In most other countries, manufacturers are able to describe the antiviral efficacy of their finished product as long as they have tested their products against their claims, Lam added. Still, HeiQ Viroblock’s technology has garnered interest from Artistic Milliners, Arvind Limited and Artistic Denim Mills, while brands DL1961 and Warp + Weft incorporate the textile tech in their Fall/Winter 20-21 collections.

Setting expectations

In an industry familiar with the damaging effects of misleading claims and greenwashing, experts must use caution with the messaging they include in their products.

Case in point: Diesel found itself the subject of criticism from experts quoted in a Business Insider article calling out the brand’s “virus-fighting denim” developed with Polygiene’s ViralOff technology. Health experts denounced the product as simply a “marketing ploy” that fails to protect individuals against the virus that causes Covid-19. Diesel declined to comment on the article’s claims.

However, the majority of protective finishing technologies currently on the market don’t intend to protect the wearer—they are designed to protect the fabric. Gnutti says it’s crucial that consumers understand the difference.

“One misconception is that the technology might protect the wearer from getting sick,” he said of his company’s latest protective technology. “However, the technology only protects the textile from being contaminated with bacteria and viruses—there are no medical health claims regarding the wearer.”