Arvind Ltd, Raymond Ltd, RSWM Ltd, Donear and many such other leading Indian textile companies recently strengthened their association with Switzerland-based HeiQ, a leader in textile innovation, creating some of the most effective, durable and high-performance textile effects. HeiQ, listed last month on the London Stock Exchange, has developed over 200 technologies in partnership with over 300 major brands.
HeiQ Viroblock, the latest innovation of the company, was recently honoured with Swiss Technology Award 2020. It is an antimicrobial technology which helps in the fight against enveloped viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing Covid-19). It is already being used by more than 150 global brands.
With a manufacturing capacity of 35,000 tonnes per year in its sites in Switzerland, Australia and US, HeiQ is established on three pillars – scientific research, speciality materials manufacturing and consumer ingredient branding. Apparel Resources had an exclusive discussion with Hoi Kwan Lam – Chief Marketing Officer of the company. She discussed various aspects of the antimicrobial textile revolution, HeiQ Viroblock.
The company is just 15-years-old but throughout its years of development, with extensive research network with universities and PhDs around the world, HeiQ has gathered a good amount of knowledge about textiles that becomes very helpful when it comes to a global crisis like COVID-19.
“We try to apply all our knowledge into something so essential as textiles – to make them antiviral. We launched HeiQ Viroblock as a means to contribute our part to the world. Our thinking was: until there is a cure or vaccine for this disease, at least we can help to mitigate the spread of it with what we do,” says Hoi Kwan Lam.
She further adds that the company is very impressed with the speed at which brands and manufacturers have adopted this technology. “Usually, any new product development project would take 18-24 months to be accepted by the market. In some extremely fast cases, we are talking about 9 months. In the case of HeiQ Viroblock, it was shortened to 3 months! The high market acceptance has proven to us that the market needed it. Manufacturers hear the demand and react to it. The supply then awakens yet bigger demand for this kind of products.”
It is pertinent to mention here that as per Global Market Insight, the antimicrobial textile market was estimated to be US $ 10 billion in size in 2019 at a CAGR of 9.8 per cent (a figure before the pandemic). However, after the pandemic, the situation has changed completely as the market has expanded.
She believes that now antiviral textile is a subcategory but this terminology basically didn’t exist before the pandemic, or so to say before HeiQ launched HeiQ Viroblock. There was no such market. Now the awareness of such textile functionality has grown and the market is there to stay. Hoi Kwan Lam explains, “We can be sure that the overall antimicrobial textile market will continue to grow. If we look at the last SARS epidemic, consumers’ behaviour has permanently changed: hygiene habits, household disinfectant consumption and usage of more such products has increased that are marketed as antimicrobial or antibacterial. If you look at Dettol, this brand had only a handful of SKUs before SARS but the product portfolio has grown to about a hundred by now.”
HeiQ Viroblock (NPJ03, as the formulation is called), is a patent-pending formulation that combines HeiQ’s advanced silver (which it has been developing knowledge on since the inception of HeiQ) and a vesicle component. All the ingredients are carefully selected from the international nomenclature of cosmetic ingredients so you can be rest assured that the chemistry doesn’t add any skin irritation or allergens to the fabric.
Normally silver-ions always have certain antimicrobial efficacy, but it works slowly. Traditionally antimicrobial was targeting odour control in textiles so it did not need to work very fast. But in the case of a virus, we want to deactivate it fast, so the silver alone wouldn’t be enough. That’s why HeiQ combined it with its vesicle component. It has a very similar structure as the virus membrane but contains no cholesterol, while virus membrane contains a lot of cholesterol. The vesicle draws away cholesterol from the virus so its shield becomes brittle. Thus, the virus can be deactivated by silver-ion much more rapidly. The company has tested the technology against Sendai virus (which is an enveloped virus, just like the Coronavirus) and the efficacy is shown within 2-5 minutes.
Working with Indian companies since over a decade, HeiQ sees India as a very important market as Indian companies have a significant role to play in the supply chain helping Western brands realise their innovative product ideas.
In her words, “We want our products to benefit as many people as possible. Asia has a huge population and a fast-growing middle-class. So, the consumer market is interesting for us. HeiQ operates in these markets mainly through manufacturers who sell locally. We work with these manufacturers/ brands to make sure that the added value of HeiQ technologies is explained to the consumers in the most precise and correct manner, e.g. by use of our ingredient brands.”
To make sure that a consumer is using proper HeiQ antiviral solution in their merchandise, HeiQ has a strict trademark licensing protocol and brands need to fulfil its product validation, check claims and trademark approval.
The company also has an online monitoring system to spot any unauthorised claims.
“There is no perfect solution, we understand that. But the legitimate licensees are also helping us spot the unauthorised users and we can then take the required action, sometimes legal action against them. Consumers also know how to reach us (via social media and email) if they have a doubt,” she says.
The people are using/misusing the term antimicrobial, antiviral, antibacterial interchangeably. And Hoi Kwan Lam is of the view that microbes can refer to bacteria, viruses, fungus, etc. Antimicrobial is a broader term without specifically referring to one specific type of microbe, while the words ‘antibacterial’ and ‘antiviral’ discuss biocidal efficacy referring to one specific type of microbes.
“Consumers are much more informed nowadays and their natural curiosity leads them to google it and find out more anyway without us trying to push. But it is in our plan for HeiQ to produce more fun facts and educational contents to engage with the consumers more as well as to make them more informed and equip them better to make educated purchase decisions for something so new as ‘textile innovations’,” she informs.
Antiviral treatment as an innovation itself has a huge social impact. Moreover, at the beginning of the pandemic, when global logistics was paralysed, HeiQ helped its customers, hospitals, clinics and the Swiss Army to source PPEs, making use of its dynamic and agile team and global reach.
“We are very motivated to help. We were told by some of our customers in the South Asian region that they could continue with their business activities thanks to HeiQ Viroblock, as many Governments ordered businesses to shut down and these businesses were allowed to continue because they were producing pandemic-relevant products. Their employees continued to receive an income and thus be able to sustain their families,” Hoi Kwan Lam concludes.