Antimicrobial fabrics help fight war against germs
Demand for antimicrobial-treated clothing is surging as consumers become increasingly aware of hygiene and of the potentially harmful effects of micro-organisms, according to the latest issue of Performance Apparel Markets, published by Textiles Intelligence.
Antimicrobials in apparel play an important role in preventing the psychological discomfort associated with odour-producing bacteria and in reducing the risk of skin infections caused by fungi. They also create a powerful barrier against the spread of the antibiotic resistant bacteria which are responsible for hospital-related infections. In many industrialised countries, such infections are on the rise.
Not surprisingly, the penetration of antimicrobials in apparel applications is growing rapidly, according to Performance Apparel Markets. It is estimated that the use of antimicrobials in clothing will increase by more than 15% a year in Western Europe between 2001 and 2005, making this apparel category one of the fastest growing textile markets targeted by this type of performance additive.
In response to growing demand, an increasing range of fibres and fabrics with antimicrobial products has become available, targeting end uses ranging from sports socks and underwear to protective clothing for healthcare workers and emergency personnel. Manufacturers and suppliers of casual wear and fashion wear are also using antimicrobial products to a greater extent than ever before, incorporating these into items such as T-shirts, jacket linings and lingerie.
Their use in leisure wear, casual wear and fashion wear is set to increase as more consumers become aware of their benefits in general and their deodorising properties in particular.
As the number of apparel end uses for antimicrobial products has increased, so too has the number of companies supplying such products, says Performance Apparel Markets. Since the mid-1990s, a growing number of companies have added antimicrobial lines to their fibre portfolios. These include Trevira, one of Europe's leading manufacturers of polyester fibres, and Novaceta, the leading European producer of acetate continuous filament.
In the sportswear and outdoor apparel segment, several companies use antimicrobial fabrics to enhance the comfort and functionality of their products. One of these is US-based Columbia Sportswear Company, a global leader in outdoor apparel which specialises in the design of outerwear for active outdoor use and casual wear. Columbia is one of the largest and fastest growing companies in the outdoor apparel segment. In the five years to 2003, its sales more than doubled to just over US$950 mn. The company is confident that it will continue to grow by leveraging is strong brand name and harnessing opportunities provided by advances in fabric technology to broaden its product range
Technological advances will continue to play a key role in driving the market for antimicrobial-treated apparel, according to Performance Apparel Markets. Over the past decade, these have paved the way to the development of more durable and more effective antimicrobial treatments which can be incorporated into an ever-increasing range of garments and accessories, often at no extra cost to the consumer. The use of such treatments has helped manufacturers of performance apparel to differentiate their products in the marketplace, enabling them to emphasise the "cleanliness" and "freshness" aspects of antimicrobial-treated garments.
In the USA and Europe, strict regulations are in place--and more are in the pipeline--to prevent manufacturers from making exaggerated claims about what their antimicrobial-treated products can achieve. For manufacturers, observing these regulations involves significant costs and compliance with strict testing and inspection protocols, which are designed to ensure that stringent safety and efficacy requirements are met.
Antimicrobial products which are likely to record the strongest sales gains in the years ahead are those that offer the highest efficacy while posing little or no safety threat--either to the consumer or to the environment.
Further developments in the field of antimicrobial treatments are likely over the next few years as manufacturers respond to growing consumer demands for comfort and functionality. Research is currently underway to develop fabrics which "eat" odours although it is likely to take some time before self-cleaning apparel becomes a reality.
Performance Apparel Markets is a quarterly publication from Textiles Intelligence. Each issue includes business information and analysis of the market for high performance activewear and corporate apparel. Reports published in issue No 7 include: "Fast Track: Tracking the US sports apparel industry"; "Product developments and innovations"; "Antimicrobial fibres and fabrics"; "Profile of Columbia Sportswear Company: a leader in outdoor apparel"; and "Business update".
A year's subscription to Performance Apparel Markets - starting with this issue - costs #395 / Euro750 (Europe, Middle East or Africa) or US$750 (Americas or Asia Pacific) in electronic format (by email or on CD-Rom). A printed supplement is available. Single issues are also available on request. For further details, please contact Belinda Carp at Textiles Intelligence, International Subscriptions, 10 Beech Lane, Wilmslow SK9 5ER, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (0)1625 536136; Fax: +44 (0)1625 536137; Email: email@example.com
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