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Coronavirus Stripped ‘Fabric Hygiene’ of ‘Unsexy’ Image

The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 350,000 people worldwide amid nearly 5.5 million cases, is giving consumers a “massive education in fabric hygiene.”

Companies like Noble Biomaterials, whose heritage in bacterial management solutions primarily lies in the scrubs and bedsheets of the healthcare sector, said chief marketing officer Christy Raedeke, have seen a sizeable influx of interest from consumer-facing brands amid heightened awareness around viral spread, contamination and personal safety.

And though the topic of how textile sanitation has been “the most unsexy thing,” Raedeke added, now clothing makers are eager to infuse antimicrobial properties into garments destined to live in consumers’ closets.

As the COVID-19 pandemic upends markets, keeps kids out of schools, and makes remote workers of many white-collar employees, consumers are just now beginning to grasp the extent to which harmful microbes can live and linger on a variety of surfaces—their clothing included. This new awakening is fueling demand.

The revival of interest in clothes coated with antimicrobial materials poses what could be a remarkable about-face for apparel, said Raedeke, which prior to the outbreak had been shifting to sustainable materials and operations at a rapid clip, with “everyone pledging to do crazy things by 2022.” With face masks now a consumer staple, makers are looking to produce this personal protective equipment with an eco-friendly eye to longevity beyond the “one and done, throw it away” status quo, she said.

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Noble’s “inherent yarn technology” fits the bill, Raedeke said, because the antimicrobial silver properties are baked right into the fiber and don’t wash out after three or four dozen launderings. Shoppers are paying more attention to this idea of quality and durability as they’ve powered the rise of resale fashion in recent years, Raedeke said, pointing to Gap-owned Athleta as a client that has recently broken into the pre-owned market with a ThredUp partnership.

Long known as XT2, Noble’s antimicrobial solution underwent a recent rebrand, emerging as Ionic Plus. A 7 percent to 10 percent blend is all brands need to reap the benefits of Ionic Plus’ microbe-busting capabilities, without sacrificing the fabric’s hand feel. Plus, silver minimizes stink, too, an added bonus in a virus-wary world in which personal protective gear is undergoing high-frequency usage.

French interlinings giant Chargeurs launched a line of personal protective products for American consumers after its Lainière Santé line sold millions to shoppers in hard-hit France. The U.S. line of face masks, dubbed Lainière Health & Wellness and sold on, includes a cotton face covering infused with Ionic Plus, Angela Chan, global president of Lainière Santé and managing director and president, worldwide, of Chargeurs*PCC Fashion Technologies, told Sourcing Journal. All masks in the line, including those made from polyester, filter at least 90 percent of bacterial invaders.

Admitting that she doesn’t have a “crystal ball,” Chan voiced her belief that COVID-19 has forever changed consumer lifestyles, making high-quality face masks an even more important consideration for shoppers looking to invest in their health and wellness. The company’s PPE line offers fashion face masks featuring lace and other premium materials not typically seen on the utilitarian garments.