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Booming business of self-care technologies

As the pandemic waxes and wanes, health and wellness emerge as priorities for consumers.

Feature | October 1, 2021 | By: Debra Cobb

AlignMed® NeuroBand® technology is designed to help correct posture and improve alignment. Photo: William Fregoso.

The idea of caring for our health and wellness is no longer confined to New Agers or the self-obsessed. According to “Feeling Good: The Future of the $1.5 Trillion Wellness Market,” a report by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co., “A rise in both consumer interest and purchasing power presents tremendous opportunities for companies, particularly as spending on personal wellness rebounds after stagnating or even declining during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The textile industry is already benefiting from the trend. From smart yarns and responsive textiles to wearable tech, textile and apparel companies are seeing a significant spike in sales of consumer products that promote health and wellness—just by getting dressed.

Beyond compression 

Compression fabrics for athletic performance and recovery are not new, but the use of specialty yarns in compressive textiles for drug delivery, pain relief and other health-related issues holds potential for a wide range of self-care products. 

Based in North Carolina, Nufabrx® HealthWear products include compression sleeves for various joints and the extremities. They’re knit with yarns infused with capsaicin, a component in chili peppers, which the company says delivers transdermal pain relief from minor aches and joint pain associated with arthritis, simple backaches, strains and sprains. 

“By infusing the active ingredients at the yarn level, it increases the surface area and consistency of the dermal delivery, without affecting fabric comfort,” says Nufabrx founder and CEO Jordan Schindler. The dermal pain relief remains functional through 15 or more launderings. 

The use of specialty yarns in compressive textiles for drug delivery, pain relief and other health-related issues holds potential for a wide range of self-care products, such as Nufabrx® knitted sleeves containing capsaicin for transdermal pain relief. Photo: RobSnapped.

The company has expanded its offerings to include other over-the-counter products, such as reusable face masks embedded with copper and shea butter. It is looking to address other wellness needs with ideas such as melatonin-infused pillowcases and maternity belly bands with shea butter.

Although its products are available without a prescription, the company also recognizes the value of supporting health care regimens that could be prescribed by medical professionals. Compression garments can only work if patients actually use them. 

“We are focused on utilizing textiles as the perfect platform for improving patient compliance,” says Schindler.  

During the pandemic, many workers found themselves hunched over a computer screen in their homes rather than ergonomically designed office spaces. That’s where AlignMed® Inc. comes in. The company offers posture apparel in a collection of comfortable, form-fitting garments using an anatomic matrix of elastomeric bands, panels and seams known as NeuroBand® Technology. According to Bob Schultz, the California company’s vice president of operations, it has seen a significant sales uptick through the pandemic.

Using three different knit constructions of polyester and spandex, NeuroBands apply specific resistance onto targeted muscle groups in kinetic alignment. The NeuroBands help to improve posture and other physical functions without conscious effort; they can be worn for an hour or 24 hours a day.

According to the company website, the exoskeletal garments are bio-ergonomically engineered with the AlignMed Medical Advisory Panel (AMAP), a group of experts in medicine and sports science committed to helping people maximize the body’s innate ability to heal itself. 

AlignMed’s posture garments called SpinalQ® may be covered by insurance. But according to Schultz, it’s the online consumer business that has really taken off. “We found a lot of people looking for a way to correct the months of slumping over screens during the pandemic, which resulted in a forward head position causing pain in neck, spine and shoulders,” he says. “We see the health and wellness category growing significantly and globally. We feel that the market for ‘wearable therapy’ is only going to continue.”

The Mey and Schoeller® energear™ technology involves a titanium-based textile finish that reflects the body’s own radiated energy back in the form of far infrared rays (FIR), improving sleep in the wearers of Mey Zzzleepwear. Photos: Mey Handles GMBH.

Better sleep

According to the McKinsey report, half of consumers around the world reported a desire for more products and services to meet the need for higher-quality sleep. The solution could be as simple as putting on different pajamas.

The German family-owned underwear and loungewear maker Mey GmbH & Co. has teamed up with Schoeller Textil AG to create a line of sleepwear featuring Schoeller® energear™ technology, a titanium-based textile finish that reflects the body’s own radiated energy back in the form of far infrared rays (FIR). The reflected energy enhances the body’s recovery, performance and sense of well-being by improving sleep. 

The MEY Zzzleepwear garments for men and women also feature a Spotify code, which can be scanned to hear a sleep podcast created especially for the selected pair of pajamas.

“Schoeller remains always interested in working with brands and products promoting better health and well-being. There are many partners we work with that see themselves first in this space and as an apparel company second. As a part of this thinking, we have many unique combinations of yarns and finishes that together enable the end user to enjoy enhanced, healthy activities,” says Stephen Kerns, president, Schoeller Textil USA Inc.

Photo: Mey Handles GMBH.

Clothing that communicates

Performance textiles using sensors to communicate specific physiological data via proprietary apps are not new, but they are finding new consumer-focused end uses for monitoring everyday health and wellness. Nadi X, a line of smart yoga pants by New York company Wearable X, provides vibrational guidance for yoga poses via a patented haptic technology platform. The washable pants come with a rechargeable “pulse,” a devise that clips on to the pants just behind the left knee and connects with the yogi’s smartphone via Bluetooth®.

“The haptic sensations are located in the hips, knees and ankles of the Nadi X yoga pants,” says Wearable X CEO Billie Whitehouse, who launched Wearable X in Australia. “The electronics are integrated into the back of the pants so that we can provide directional feedback based on the pose. The IMU [inertial measurement unit] data also allows us to analyze the pose to give the wearer an understanding of whether or not they are properly positioned.”

Whitehouse says that this is an exciting era for at-home fitness and wellness technologies. “However, as we return to ‘normal’ it will be important to have a point of difference,” she adds. “Our point of difference is that you are never tied to one room in the house. You can bring your personal experience wherever you go. Our transportable technology gives the wearer the ability to practice yoga anywhere with guidance.”

As for future products and features, she says, “We are focused on yoga and recovery and everything that comes with that.”

Also in the category of clothing that talks to you, Spinali Design’s Neviano smart swimwear features an app that monitors sun exposure and alerts beachgoers to apply sunscreen. The French fashion house has developed a number of wellness-inspired products, designed by Marie Spinali, that combine fashion and technology.

The chic swimwear, made with Italian fabrics, comes with a waterproof medallion that is actually a sensor. It measures and communicates temperature and sun exposure data to a smartphone app programmed with the wearer’s skin type. The app then alerts the wearer when it is time to reapply sunscreen.

According to Spinali, “I think there is a true opportunity for smart clothes if you look at it not with a fashion angle, but as a service-based accessory. Beyond the aesthetic, smart clothing can provide a service. And that gives a new meaning, new direction, to the textile world.”

The Nadi X system provides vibrational guidance for yoga practice via a haptic technology platform. Photo: Wearable X.

The time is right

Matt Kolmes, CEO of North Carolina’s Supreme Corp./Volt Smart Yarns, sees the post-pandemic interest in health, wellness and self-care as a trend with legs, with opportunities coming from government and non-governmental agencies, as well as from consumer markets. The company, which develops yarns and fabrics for wearable technologies, has been invited to submit a Stage 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create textiles using yarn sensors for the detection and mitigation of COVID-19. The NSF SBIR program focuses on transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial potential and/or societal benefit.

Kolmes also sees the potential for textiles using yarns infused with cannabidiol (CBD), glucosamine or blends of additives being adopted to deliver transdermal medication for pain relief, sleep therapy or skin health. He points out that the World Anti-Doping Agency recently approved the use of CBD for pain relief by Olympic athletes.

“The time is right, and there is a lot of grant money being made available for the development of smart textiles for health and wellness,” says Kolmes, who is being honored as a top influencer at MARsum’s 2021 global marketing, advertising and retail summit. “We are at the intersection
of need and money.”

The McKinsey report concludes, “Wellness is here to stay as consumers across nations plan to increase their spending on personal health, appearance, fitness and more.” If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that physical and mental health will remain a priority for millions of people across the globe for a long time. 

Debra Cobb is a freelance writer with textile expertise based in North Carolina. 


SIDEBAR: Antiviral textiles take on COVID-19

Even with COVID-19 vaccination rates increasing, masks continue to be on the front line of the defense against the pandemic worldwide, helping to prevent the airborne or droplet transmission of the virus. Over the past year, the textile community has pushed hard to develop innovations that will make masks more effective. These are some of the textile technologies available on the market:

Osmotex AG and Zurich University of Applied Scientists (ZHAW) have developed a self-disinfecting mask. Photo: ZHAW.

A mask that disinfects itself at the touch of a button has been developed by scientists at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and Swiss research and development company Osmotex AG. The Ray® Osmotex Active Sterilising Face Mask® uses Osmotex Steriliser® technology, based on the company’s core commercialized technology for electronically controlled moisture migration in fabrics via an electroosmotic and electrochemical process.

  • DiOX®, a global producer of textile chemistries and a division of LiquidNano, has launched an antiviral finish called D4, a mechanical nanoscale coating that uses silica quaternary salts (QUATS). The chemical kills the virus on contact by piercing the outer cell membrane with millions of microscopic spikes. Testing has shown that 99.7 percent of viral pathogens introduced to masks treated with D4 are eliminated within one hour. 
  • A nanoscale zinc treatment is the key to the LOG3 antiviral mask from Claros Technologies Inc., St. Paul, Minn. A proprietary zinc solution is embedded into the textile and heated to form non-leaching zinc nanoparticles. The company says its new treatment, called ZioShield®, kills viruses on contact. The mask is marketed by ZioWear.
  • Germany’s PyroTex® Industries GmbH, makers of heat- and flame-resistant acrylic fiber, has created a fiber found to incapacitate viruses (SARS-CoV-2, H3N2, MS2), bacteria (Klebsiella Pn., S. Aureus, E. Coli) and fungi (Aspergillus niger). PyroTex Medic demonstrated an activity of 99.57 percent against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 
Spinali Design’s smart gloves react with UV radiation to destroy harmful microbes. Photo: Spinali Design.

Made in France from Italian fabrics and Swiss electronics, Spinali Design’s smart gloves destroy bacteria and viruses when exposed to UV light. The fabric is treated with titanium dioxide, which reacts with the UV-A and UV-B radiation in natural light to eliminate the microbes.

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