Wonder garments from Arrow

IN HIS office in Bangalore the other day, Darshan Mehta , President of the Rs. 275-crore Arvind Brands Ltd., demonstrated to this correspondent a bit of magic. From a dropper filled with dark coffee liquor, he squirted some drops on a snow white, cotton dress shirt from the Arrow brand stable. Much to my amazement, instead of forming a dark, spreading stain, the coffee just formed tight beads on the shirt which Mr. Mehta wiped out with a paper napkin, leaving the shirt spotless.

"No, the fabric is not coated with any liquid repellent chemical,'' averred Mr. Mehta . "What you see here is the result of the first major breakthrough in textile technology in the last three decades. It is called Nano-Care and involves the attachment of tiny molecular structures to cotton fibres.''

This revolutionary technology was developed just a few years ago by Nano-Tex, LLC, a research company founded in 1998 by David Soane. Its corporate office is located in Greensboro, North Carolina, and research centre in Emeryville, California. Last year, the fabric giant, Burlington Industries, impressed with the market potential of the Nano-Tex technology, bought 51 per cent of the research company's equity.

The Nano-Tex products employ what is known as Nanotechnology, which refers to technology done on a nanometre scale. A nanometre is one-billionth of a metre. To create the stain-prevention property in cotton, the Nano-Tex technology involves embedding billions of tine little structures or nanowhiskers, each of which is just ten nanometres long (in comparison a grain of sand is 1 lakh nanometres in size), on the cotton fibres. This fuzz creates a cushion of air around the fibres.

When liquid hits the fabric, it beads up on this cushion and rolls off. It cannot get through. But, if force is applied to the liquid, it passes through the fabric but does not get absorbed by the fibres. So sweat, for instance, can still be wicked away from the body. As the material is not absorbed by the fibres, a simple wash is easy to get rid of it. One need not be worried anymore of those food causing permanent stains.

The fuzz on the fibres is permanent — it changes the fabric itself so it cannot wash or wear off like other coatings used to make cotton resist wrinkles and stains. It is also undetectable, except when seen under a high-power microscope.

"So, what we have here,'' says Mr. Mehta, "is a cotton fabric which is unstainable, wrinkle-free and yet fully retains the important properties of breathability and sweat absorption which special fabric coatings or coatings diminish. Truly a wonder fabric, perfectly suited for tropical climates. The first products using this technology were out into the U.S. retail market just a few months ago. They were released by two leading brands, Eddie Bauer and Lee Jeans. I am proud to say that we were the third in the world to make and launch apparel based on this new technology.''

Labelled under the Unstainables Collection of the Arrow brand, the first products, white shirts and chinos, were launched by Arvind in mid-October . Blue shirts will be out next week and other solid colours as well as checks by December. According to Mr. Mehta, the new products have been received enthusiastically, although they are priced a bit high at Rs. 1495 for a shirt and Rs. 1695 for a pair of trousers. Exports to West Asia are on the anvil. He reckons that within the next couple of years more than 50 per cent of the seven lakh pieces per annum of Arrow brand pieces produced by Arvind will be made from the new wonder fabric.

N. N. Sachitanand

in Bangalore

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