It’s been almost a year without live streams of celebrities carelessly sashaying down a flashy, crowded red carpet. Catwalks, too, are digital with a few exceptions. But also in this category of runways-that-have-been-put-on-hold is the airport. Travel style, once a point of fascination when it comes to celebrity fashion, has appropriately fallen by the wayside as public health has taken priority and travel itself has been limited. But there are a few brands banking that the future of travel style is not only looking bright, but also coming wrapped in antimicrobial garments.
“We are not trying to position ourselves as a Covid solution, it’s more like a help to you and your state of mind,” says Eli Caner, co-founder of Better Off Alone, an antimicrobial protective line of clothing and travel gear that launched last December. The curated collection conceptualized by Caner, Tanya Amini, and Bonnie Poon includes genderless jumpsuits, track pants, and trench coats, as well as plane seat coverings and facemasks. The pieces use SilverPlus, an antimicrobial technology often seen in activewear to fight bacteria caused by sweat. “There's nothing 100% out there, and we’re not saying it’ll protect you from Covid or the common cold, but antimicrobial limits the growth rate of bacteria and germs when it hits the surface of the textiles,” explains Poon of the protective element.
Together Caner and Amini are also co-founders of Lady and Butler, a fashion-forward uniform brand that dresses staff for hotspots such as The Four Seasons and Soho House. They teamed with Poon, the CEO of Golden Times Group Limited, an ethical manufacturing supply chain based in China, to create Better Off Alone and approach its designs as a new kind of elevated utility wear for 2021 and beyond. Poon, who’s currently based in Hong Kong, says she saw firsthand the need for more protective travel clothing when those around her took to using plastic protective wear last year during Covid-19’s earliest days. “They give off this unnerving effect,” she says of the sterile-looking disposable suits. “It was important to us to create something that was not brazen and wouldn’t give off these flashing lights so you’d want to wear it when you’re traveling but hopefully integrated into your everyday wardrobe.”
Better Off Alone began development in May and by August it had samples ready. But as the old adage says about great minds, it wasn’t the only company prepping for a future that meets personal style with personal safety. “The consumer demand for antimicrobial offerings exploded last year and it seems as though this need is bubbling over into the new year as well with a particular interest growing in antiviral protection, specifically,” explains Nia Silva, materials editors at Fashion Snoops, a trend forecasting company. Culture has affected the demand, as well. “We have certainly seen a shift with travel style,” notes Fashion Snoops’ Creative Director of Youth, Robbie Sinclair. “One image that springs to mind is the infamous Naomi Campbell hazmat suit which made such an impact.”
He cites the supermodel’s documentation of the elaborate precautions she took last March as she flew from Los Angeles to New York. The video and images captured a vulnerable experience, especially so early on in the pandemic, and left such an impression that Campbell’s Amazon-purchased hazmat suit has since been acquired by Bath’s Fashion Museum.
Today, however, the supermodel may be more inclined to skip the plastic and try something like BioRomper. As with Better Off Alone, BioRomper is another brand to spring forward in 2020, quickly creating a product that meets the demand of a changing sense of normalcy. Regarded as “your new supersuit,” BioRomper is a singular garment: a unisex, black, zip-up, hooded, jumpsuit that’s made with silver-ion-based finishing which retails at $250. The garment meets the AATCC 100 test, “an industry-standard antimicrobial textile test,” explains co-founder Evan Boyd. “It tests the efficacy of the fabric with the antimicrobial treatment and the fabric without the antimicrobial treatment against two pathogens, a variant of staph infection and a variety of pneumonia, which coincidently are two of the most prevalent infections found on airplane surfaces.”
The romper launched this past October, just in time for those deciding for or against any holiday travel plans. The first stock sold out in eight weeks and the team — including fellow co-founders Noah Friedman, Arielle Crawford, and Ed McCabe — is about to release its third restock since the fall. They see much room to grow, too. “There’s a certain subset of the population that will be forever scarred or more germaphobic than they were before,” says Friedman, adding, “I also think that a lot of people, as soon as we can take our masks off in good faith and are vaccinated, are going to be eager to get back to traveling, gathering in large groups, partying, etc. We saw that coming when we designed this and that’s why the way we branded it spoke to a product that would last beyond an acute need of ‘I’m flying tomorrow and I eagerly need something to make me feel safer.’ And more so, ‘What’s my uniform for flight?’”
When looking toward fashion’s future, it’s not enough that Better Off Alone and BioRomper are appealing to a collective desire to feel at ease following a scary and devastating time. These emerging brands are also ensuring they meet other consumer priorities in 2021. Namely, ethically created fashion. For example, with its 100% cotton makeup, Better Off Alone styles are fully biodegradable. Meanwhile, BioRomper is composed of recycled fabrics. “We can’t achieve personal wellness at the expense of the planet,” says BioRomper designer Crawford, explaining the design’s long-term future. “We manufacture locally in New York, which is one reason why we were able to turn around so quickly with the disruption of the global supply chain, and in that sense, we have transparency around production.”
Still, what of airport-style inspiration? The days of spotting model-off-duty looks at LAX or celebrities in vacation gear arriving at the Nice Airport in time for the Cannes Film Festival are distant memories, but people are finding creativity and personal expression through these safety offerings, too. Tagged images on BioRomper’s Instagram show that the inconspicuously protective design is being styled like other sporty one-pieces and can easily be worn for outings other than to the airport. And as Better Off Alone shares, its playful prints are being purchased in adult and kid sizes simultaneously, suggesting there’s a bit of parent-child coordination you might see at a neighborhood playground, if not at baggage claim.
“Consumers are certainly embracing self-protection through a more stylized guise,” Sinclair confirms. After all, they can also find options through Diesel's protective jeans, 3.1 Phillip Lim's live free collection, and denim from DL1961 and Warp + Weft that have been treated with antiviral chemical HeiQ. Sinclair predicts that more loungewear companies will respond to the need for protection, as well. “The rise in lounge dressing has seen a luxury finish with chic color palettes and a focus on fabric to elevate comfort dressing,” he says of the last 12 months. “Combining lounge-type comfort with protective fabrics and integrated protection and it’s a win-win for brands and consumers.”
At the end of the day, be it jumpsuits, jeans, or sweats, antimicrobial clothing is personal safety tools and not a quick fix. They’re to be used in addition to masks, social distancing measures, frequent hand washing, etc. They might not halt the spread of any given virus or bacteria — at worse, they can even create a buzz that drives fear-based purchases — but they can provide an added sense of comfort and ease for navigating an ever-changing status quo.