Product as protection
The global pandemic has brought a new focus on the fragility of human health and society, waking consumers up to new anxieties around the “unseen enemies” of airborne pathogens and bacteria. To relieve this anxiety, consumers look to products that promise protection, resilience, immunity, and durability—hoping to purchase a bit of certainty in an otherwise chaotic and uncertain world. In March, sales of air purifiers jumped 70 percent (Inmar Intelligence) and according to the online consumer interest tracker Glimpse, UV sanitation lights saw a 128 percent increase in searches since January 2019.
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We're starting this series of with 'Product as Protection' written by Carrera Kurnik & Melissa Moylan,respectively part of the Culture team and Fashion team.
Thus, a new generation of protection products emerges featuring antimicrobial fabrics, personal air filters, UV light appliances, contact tracing wearables, touchless interfaces, and immunity boosters. For consumers, these protection attributes in products are moving from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have as people look to build up their defenses against the next inevitable threat. Further, society’s need for safety and sanitization is rewriting the rules of our world—changing our architecture, our work life, our essential product needs, and our interactions with each other. Brands and retailers currently re-thinking their assortment strategies for post-pandemic life must ensure they account for four core consumer needs: Touchless, Resilience, Sanitation, and Immune Boosting technologies.
With consumers apprehensive about going to physical stores and fitting rooms closed, contactless and touchless innovations have accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on retail. Virtual dressing rooms are growing in popularity as retailers attempt to re-create the try-on experience and give an added boost of confidence for online shopping decisions. The beauty world was an early adapter that successfully implemented virtual try-on technology with leading brands like Mac Cosmetics and Sephora. And while we’ve seen innovation in fitting rooms like interactive mirrors over the past several years, it’s gone from a nice-to-have to a need in the dawn of contactless apparel shopping. Israel-based tech firm Zeekit is proving to be a leader in augmented reality technology, allowing users to upload a full-length body photo to try on clothes. Zeekit is working with Macy’s, Adidas, and Modcloth and they’ve also extended their capabilities with ASOS to provide virtual photo shoots. True Fit is another data-driven personalization platform for retailers including Levis and Ralph Lauren that maps fit, style preference, and size for millions of shoppers. Even mall developer Brookfield Properties is getting in on the action as they attempt to lure shoppers this Fall with the body scanning capabilities of Fit:Match. American department store chain Kohl’s dipped into virtual tech this Spring by teaming up with Snapchat on an augmented reality virtual closet. Kohl’s smartly shifted their virtual assortment to loungewear in the midst of the pandemic. While some of these innovations were in the works prior to COVID-19, it’s clear that leveraging touchless fitting advancements provides a way for consumers to feel secure and more confident in online purchases.
As the spread and far-reaching impacts of health crises and climate change threaten our future, the need for resiliency must inform design. Consumers become more aligned with a survivalist and preparedness mentality, and brands must equip them with designs that respond to external environmental factors. Activewear informs outerwear, and puffers, in particular, serve as the quintessential protective safeguard in womenswear. Padded, down-filled utilitarian puffer jackets and coats are equipped to meet the demand of outdoor enthusiasts, but the appeal lies in the fact that they are readily accessible at all market levels. What also serves as a testament to the puffer’s relevance, is that while Moncler, North Face, and Uniqlo are all popular, there’s still room for innovation. Central Saint Martins graduate and Yeezy alum Ding Yun Zhang pushed the limits of innovation with oversized puffa jackets for Fall 20, born out of function and sustainability. Attributes like protective fabrics and long-term comfort inform his ethos. With a nod to function over form, the puffer will continue to perform in today’s retail climate from luxury brands to the masses.
Clothes in the COVID-19 reality are going to have to work a lot harder to convince consumers to buy, and new antimicrobial fabrics may appeal to an increasingly germaphobic society. While customers have grown accustomed to performance attributes in activewear such as moisture-wicking and UV-blocking, the concept of antiviral material on basics is emerging. Denim mills have invested in technology in the form of coatings that add a layer of protection and block viruses. In partnership with Swedish firm Polygiene, Diesel will apply ultra-innovative denim treatment ViralOff®, which physically halts 99 percent of any viral activity. It will be implemented across a selection of the brand's Spring/Summer 21 collection and lasts the lifetime of the garment. DL1961 and Warp + Weft are also launching ambitious initiatives with Artistic Denim Mills and HeiQ’s Viroblock technology, featuring both antiviral and antimicrobial protection, which will be applied to their entire denim assortments. Expanding beyond denim, wardrobe essentials brand Pangaia features antibacterial peppermint oil as a finishing treatment to stay fresh longer. Although research on spreading the virus through surface contact seems to change, the added sense of security that fabric advancements can bring is a smart way to reinvent everyday basics.
Ding Yun Zhang (Catwalk Pictures).
Protection is often viewed in an outward way, but when we’re talking material advancements, there’s a lot to consider right from the comforts of home, starting with loungewear that enhances wellness. Leading brand Lunya has become known for performance fabrics like Pima cotton and Celliant® minerals that work to convert heat and restore the body while you sleep. This kind of inactive protection is also at the core of sustainable knitwear brand GREY, who developed a new fiber called Vitadylan™, an algae extract that releases zinc, natural vitamins, and minerals into the skin. The application of restorative materials or fibers taps into the growing wellness industry by offering soft protection and boosting overall immunity.
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