Originally created 08/15/04

New advances in treatments for clothing appeal to convenience-seeking consumers

Attack that chili cheese dog with impunity.

Don't worry if your boss makes you sweat.

Heck, slouch if you want to.

Today's clothing manufacturers haven't made fabrics completely impervious to stains, smells and wrinkles, but they're pretty darn close.

Stain-resistant fabric isn't a new concept. According to Ken Greeson, the manager of textile chemistry research for Cotton Incorporated, the process had its beginning in the 1960s.

"Then it was called Scotchguard and it was put on clothing for a long time," he said. "But the chemicals have evolved over time.

"DuPont with Teflon was for pots and pans; now it's for clothing."

More than just being sprayed on clothing to make a barrier, fabric treatments are a chemical process that include the treatment and a curing stage.

"Curing, with heat applied to the fabric, makes it durable," Mr. Greeson said. "What you're seeing change is how the chemicals have been refined to ease the application to the fabric."

Stain-resistance might be one of the older forms of chemical treatments for clothing, but others have been around for just about as long, and still others are now coming into vogue as consumers look for added convenience. Wrinkle-resistant and even odor-resistant treatments are being used by a variety of clothing manufacturers and some companies are even doubling up on processes to give consumers a double dose of durability.

Wrinkle-resistant finishes have been a boon for office workers who spend long periods of time sitting down. Now, when they stand, give the pants a little shake and ... voila! No fuss, no muss. Mr. Greeson said wrinkle-resistant finishes work internally with the materials used to help the fabric "recover" better.

"You just have to remember to pull the fabric out of the dryer as soon as that buzzer goes off," he said with a laugh, because heat helps set the clothing's look.

All that added durability comes at a cost. Mr. Greeson said that most materials treated with chemical finishes are more expensive by default, but that added cost works out for the consumer in the end.

"Now the expectations are higher. Consumers expect a 30-wash durability for stain-resistance and wrinkle-resistance," Mr. Greeson said.

That translates into a lot of treated clothing and manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon in greater numbers every year.

Katie Hall, a spokeswoman for Gap Inc., said the company's line of stain-resistant shirts and shorts has been a best seller this summer and the company expects to continue to offer more products as they are developed.

"They've been extremely popular," she said. "They're flying off the shelves."

The treatments have become so popular that there aren't a lot of manufacturers turning up their metaphorical noses at the prospect of new consumers.

Wal-Mart's line of care-free Hanes T-shirts and tanks, Van Heusen's dress shirts and Jos. A. Bank's stain-resistant traveler khakis are just a few of the hundreds of offerings for consumers.

Dockers has created an entire marketing campaign around its line of clothing treatments, and it's paid off.

"It's been marketed in a big way," said Andrea Corso, Dockers' spokeswoman. "I'd say our Stain Defender line is selling five times the original forecast."

Besides the Stain Defender, Dockers is offering Wrinkle Defiance and Cool Effect, a line of shirts that designers say help keep moisture away from the body to keep the wearer cooler.

"We're combining technologies and we're putting it on everything: shirts, coats, outerwear, home products, shoes, ties," Ms. Corso said.

Dockers isn't sitting on its laurels. The company has new innovations planned for the holiday season, including khakis that are ambitiously named "Never-Iron."

"Instead of wrinkle-resistant, these are never-wrinkle," Ms. Corso said. "They come out of the dryer and look like they've been dry cleaned."

While most of these companies are offering special finishes in men's and women's clothing, manufacturers are finding an odd purchasing trend: many more men than women are looking for chemically treated clothing.

"In our studies, we've found that style is more important to women than the technology," Ms. Corso said. "They're more likely to spend their money on fashion than something durable."

That might change as engineers continue to create new ways to add special touches to the clothing we wear.

"People want even more," Mr. Greeson said. "We're looking at things like insect repellent and U.V. repellent. People are looking for more value added."

Reach Erica C. Cline at (706) 828-2946 or erica.cline@augustachronicle.com.


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