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Are nanotech fabrics any good?

Paulomi Roy | July 03, 2004 14:19 IST

Imagine you're balancing a cup of coffee and heading back to your workstation and the inevitable happens -- the coffee spills. There are huge, blotchy coffee stains across your workwear. How can you turn up like this for that important mid-afternoon client meeting?

If you're wearing stain-resistant clothing, you may not be badly off. The chances of your favourite white shirt sporting an ugly, dull brown stain post-wash are minimised if you are wearing shirts made of fabric that is treated with nanotechnology.

The menswear market today is flooded with shirts and trousers that are wrinkle free, stain resistant and have cooling properties. All of these essentially use what is called nanotechnology.

What is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is the science of studying materials smaller than 100 nanometers, or roughly 1/100th the width of a human hair. A nanometer is one billionth of a metre. Nanotechnology was first used in fabric in 1998 by a chemist named David Soane, who founded Nano-Tex while the first widespread commercial use began in 2001.

The way it works is that fabrics are engineered on a molecular level so that clothing becomes wrinkle resistant, stain repellent and even able to brush away body moisture.

Nano scale products are built with sub-miniature components that are often grown like crystals or dispersed through molecular nozzles. And these miniature components are then incorporated into ordinary materials either during manufacture or post-manufacture.

In the case of fabric, rolls of woven cotton fabric from textile mills are immersed in liquids containing trillions of nanotech fibres. Then this treated cotton, is dried in ovens binding the tiny fibres to the comparatively much larger cotton threads. Though the final product looks unchanged, it provides a nearly solid barrier to liquid or wrinkles, for instance.

In India, several brands have incorporated this technology in their ready-to-wear garments. Brands like Raymonds' Parx, Madura Garments' Allen Solly, Dockers, Louis Phillipe and Van Heusen offer nanotech garments in addition to normal cotton or blended shirts and trousers.

Arvind Mills' brand Arrow used nanotechnology till about a year back. The company has now developed an indigenous technology with liquid repellent properties in its Unstainables range of shirts and trousers.

The unstainable shirts are priced at Rs 1,595 onwards and the trousers range upwards of Rs 1,695. Compared to this, the normal premium shirts and trousers start at Rs 1,395. This technology that the company has developed lends a stain-repellent quality to 100 per cent cotton.

Says a company official, While the fabric defies any spill or stain, it is not a raincoat and has no synthetic coating. The fabric breathes naturally and is comfortable to wear. The Arrow brand is available at exclusive showrooms, multi-brand outlets and department stores at metros and mini-metros.

Raymond Apparel's brands Parx and Park Avenue also offer nanotechnology garments. Parx offers nanocare chinos (trousers) at Rs 1,599 while the Smart Care Shirts by Park Avenue are priced at Rs 1,495. The shirts, says the company, protect against wrinkles and stains (and can repel both water and oil).

Then, there's Dockers which offers odour resistant, anti microbial and wrinkle free shirts all in one. The shirt has properties to reduce body odour and bacteria due to sweat and is wrinkle-free as well. It is priced at Rs 1,199 for a half-sleeve shirt compared to Rs 899 for its untreated cotton counterpart. Currently there's no full-sleeve range.

The brand also has stain defender trousers which are treated with Dupont Teflon due to which oil and water based liquids bead up and roll off providing stain protection. The wrinkle-free trousers range from Rs 1,099 to Rs 1,799 depending on the fabric while the stain defender is priced at Rs 1,999.

Allen Solly only offers wrinkle-free trousers ranging from Rs 1,299 to Rs 1,499 depending on the fabric. Premium brands like Louis Phillipe also offer wrinkle-free shirts and trousers.

Shirts range from Rs 1,999 to Rs 3,999 while normal cotton shirts are priced ranging from Rs 999-Rs 1,599. Louis Phillipe's wrinkle free trousers are priced at Rs 1,799.

Apart from the wrinkle-free shirts, Van Heusen offers Oxyrich shirts and Icetouch cooling shirts. The Oxyrich shirt, priced between Rs 999 to Rs 1,299 (depending on the fabric), releases oxygen ions around the wearer, inducing freshness.

While the Icetouch range of shirts cools down the body. The brand doesn't have a range of similar trousers though.

While all of this sounds good, the fact is that nanotechnology lasts for only about 30-50 washes depending on the brand and -- assuming the shirt is washed once every week -- that's about seven months to a year. After that, the nanotech shirt you've paid a premium for goes on to become any other normal shirt.

It will wrinkle, stain, allow body odour and no longer cool you down. Says a Mumbai retailer, Consumers don't ask for these products outright. Repeat clients later complain that the shirts are no longer wrinkle-free, not realising that the technology doesn't last permanently.

The one way to extend the life of the nanotech garment is to follow the wash instructions as closely as possible. These include no drycleaning, a delicate machine wash, avoiding chlorine bleaches, avoiding wringing the clothing and drip drying.

Each shirt and trouser will come with a set of wash instructions which should be read if you want to prolong the life of the nanotechnology used in your formal workwear.

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