The Material Science Brands Creating Disease Resistant Clothing

As seen on Fashion Roundtable.

The Covid-19 pandemic has left many worrying that infectious diseases present an ever increasing risk in our globalised world. Technological advances, aimed specifically at mitigating virus transmission during a pandemic, have been the focus of many diverse industries — the fashion industry isn’t usually considered to be part of this group of innovators. But in reality there exist a number of companies and material science projects that are putting fashion firmly on the map.

One such brand is Vollebak, who have set out to create clothing for the next century, not next season. Take for instance their relaxation hoodie dubbed the “self-isolation tank you can take anywhere”. The piece was based on a number of experimental techniques, including meditation, colour theory and a 1954 study of isolation tanks. Initially the hoodie was designed for use in extremely testing environments, and while the majority of us aren’t mountaineers or astronauts, we can certainly relate to the challenges that come with self-isolation during a pandemic. The functionality from a design perspective is particularly interesting— on closer inspection everything has been meticulously considered. The left pocket is far higher than the right and designed to keep your arms in a folded position, a little like hugging yourself. The hood can also be zipped right to the top to cover your face, so you can see out, but no-one can see in. With social distancing and masks here to stay for the foreseeable, the extensive research into designing a piece purely for relaxation feels particularly relevant right now. 

Another of their designs is a jacket made from over 11 kilometers of copper. This was specifically designed to pioneer the future of both intelligent and disease resistant materials and clothing. As we know it, copper is utilised in many situations in our daily lives, and perhaps most commonly used in electrical equipment for its ability to conduct both electricity and heat. However, copper’s most compelling property is that it’s uninhabitable and biostatic which means viruses and bacteria can’t grow on its surface. “The copper releases electrically charged ions which first make it difficult for a microbe to breathe, before punching holes in its outer membrane, moving in and completely wiping out its DNA, preventing it from developing any future resistance. As you can imagine, these properties have undergone extensive research and this material is trending again given the Covid outbreak.

In early June conservationists warned the pandemic could wreak havoc for our oceans and aquatic life, as substantial amounts of single-use masks and gloves were found in the mediterranean. In a report by UCL’s Plastic Waste Hub, it predicted that if every person in the UK wore a single-use plastic mask each day for a year, it would generate around 66,000 tonnes of contaminated waste and result in up to ten times more impact to the environment than reusable masks. With masks a legal requirement in most countries, the internet has been awash with sartorial style tips centred around just this. From celebrities donning silk scarves, to matching your mask to your maxi, it seems fashion’s elite is embracing the reusable mask. However, trends aside, there are also a number of collaborations and brands making exciting advances. One collaboration to think outside the box is scented paper brand Ponsont and material research design studio Ma-tt-er— both London-based. The materials trialled include biodegradable coconut leather and scents specifically designed to inspire a meditative state. After attending a webinar with People’s Masks a few months ago, it was evident that a number of materials had antimicrobial properties, including bamboo and natural indigo dye; these were encouraged as gold standard where possible. A brand utilising these antimicrobial properties to its advantage is Burberry, who just last week released deadstock cotton masks treated with antimicrobial technologies, which are set to keep the mask fresher and somewhat more hygienic.

Likewise, the Albini Group's ViroFormula fabrics are created using an innovative technology that protects against viruses and bacteria — it even has proven efficacy against Covid-19.Chemicals embedded in the textile are used to destroy the virus in a few minutes through a patent-pending combination of a fat vesicle technology (liposomes), which detroys viruses by depleting the viral membrane, and silver-based technologies that activate high-spectrum antiviral reactions. These complex mechanisms, invisible on fabrics, are ideal for the fabrication of shirts, jackets and trousers, but also for masks and gowns. “We have created a new category of products, unique in its kind: the most beautiful fabrics in the world with the ability to protect us from viruses. To wear a better future now”, said Fabio Albini, Creative Director of the brand. 

The pandemic has clearly brought with it a very real need for purposeful design and materials augmented with added protection. With this in mind, research from the LAMP Lab at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has created a textile coating that will prevent viruses from adhering to the surface of materials like gowns and masks. Most other similar coatings trialled washed away and weren’t durable. However this coating was run through a series of ultrasonic washes, as well as thousands of tests with a scrubbing pad, to find that the coating remained intact. Although still in testing phase, this has worked well with adenovirus, and trials will continue. It’s hoped that it will be quickly scaled-up with broad applications in the healthcare sector.

While fashion hasn’t traditionally been synonymous with technological advances, these current advances are second-to-none. With a feeling of uncertainty in the air, it’s thought that consumers will align themselves with companies looking to add another layer of protection to their products. And with unprecedented times still ahead, these innovations are not only reassuring, but also incredibly positive— something that is needed now more than ever.